Home ARC Tunnel For Christie, a wavering ARC commitment

For Christie, a wavering ARC commitment

by Benjamin Kabak

These tunnels, the only way into or out of New York City for NJ Transit, aren't going to cut it. (Photo courtesy of NJ Transit)

When news broke over the weekend that New Jersey was suspended work on the ARC tunnel for 30 days to review, New Jersey Transit’s Executive Director James Weinstein appeared as the public face of the shutdown. Yet, when a state opts to freeze its part of an $8.7-billion megaproject, someone else is clearly pulling the strings. Yesterday, Gov. Chris Christie admitted his role in the affair, and his comments have many fearing for the future of the project.

At a press conference this week, Christie claim to voice his conditional support for the tunnel, but his comments were clearly aimed at the immediate future of the ARC tunnel. “If I can’t pay for it, then we’ll have to consider other options,” he said, before levying a charge of politicking at the Corzine Administration. “It went from $5 billion to $8.7 billion in what was clearly a rush by the Corzine administration to have gold shovels and put them the ground and try to get Corzine re-elected. That obviously was less than successful, and I’m concerned that their evaluations of price of this project was as successful as his re-election campaign was.”

As ARC supporters rushed to defend the project, noting that it was in the planning stages years before Jon Corzine was New Jersey governor, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign dug up a letter from Gov. Christie. Written in April of 2010 and addressed to US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Christie’s missive notes how the ARC tunnel is “critical for the transit riders of New Jersey and the region.”‘

I want to restate my commitment of those funds controlled bv the State of New Jersey, specifically funding from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA), the Federal Highway Administration and the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). Also attached is a reconfirmation of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) $3 billion commitment to the project…

With respect to the reauthorization of the TTF as it relates to the recapitalization of the transit system, the State of New Jersey has a long history of reauthorizing the TTF on time and I will not let the TTF expire on my watch.

Now that the TTF is running dry and Christie has pledged to keep taxes in New Jersey low, he’s running into quite the pickle. He could quash a badly-needed train tunnel or he could renege on his pledge to keep taxes down. Based on the region’s lackluster embrace of transit expansion plans, would it surprise me to see him embrace the ARC tunnel if it costs even $1 more than current projections? Yes, it would.

TSTC, meanwhile, again voiced its support for the project. Noting the planning criticism surrounding it (and responding in turn), Steven Higashide reports on a letter sent to Christie, co-signed by the heads of the TSTC, New Jersey Future and the RPA. “Stalling ARC,” the three warn, “will only lead to higher expenses later and could mean New Jersey would have to refund the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars and miss out on thousands of desperately needed, well-paying jobs.”

These are trying economic times for the country’s states as debt limits are maxed out and budgets are running in the red by no small amount. Yet, to see a project of this magnitude and importance shelved would be a blow to the area’s transportation infrastructure and the regions economy. Gov. Christie should swallow hard and continue to support the ARC tunnel no matter what this 30-day review says.

* * *
Update (10:50 a.m.): Andrea Bernstein over at Transportation Nation wrote a similar overview of the state of the ARC project today. She compares Christie’s stance on the tunnel with his ideological entrenchment against the highway trust fund and doesn’t see a bright future for this project. “If he sticks with his ideological commitment — and he’s known for that — the ARC project,” she concludes, “is in deep, deep trouble.”

The Star-Ledger, in an editorial today, urges Christie to keep this project on pace. Comparing it to the New Jersey governor’s failed Race To The Top bid, the paper notes that this tunnel is “widely recognized as vital to the region’s economy” and highlights how the initial price estimate was a collaboration between a Bush official who now works for Christie and then-Gov. Corzine’s office. It isn’t, in other words, as cut-and-dry as Christie’s politicking makes it sound. “Throwing stones,” the paper says, “at Corzine is not the leadership we need. It’s a cop out.”

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Nathanael September 16, 2010 - 2:35 am

Of course, we can’t possibly hope that someone will have the sense to build the Hudson Tunnels, connect them to Penn Station as the original plan proposed, and defer the massively expensive 34th Street Cavern, which is the misdesigned part.

That would make too much sense. 😛

drosejr September 16, 2010 - 10:03 am


This question was settled a long time ago and will not get reopened. The new #7 line extension doesn’t allow for the connection to the old Penn Station because the slope of the needed tunnels would be too high. Not to mention the fact that Hudson River Park would have to get dug up along with substantially more of the Far West Side. It just isn’t feasible, period.
To anticipate your next question, the connection to Grand Central cannot be made at this point, but by the time ARC is completed, the Third Water Tunnel should be up and running, allowing for the first one to be taken out of service and a potential connection to be made. No sense in planning for that now, especially with funding for ARC itself in question.

Alon Levy September 16, 2010 - 4:26 pm

Yes, it is feasible. What you’re saying is that the current profile of the new tunnels, which is substantially different from that of the old tunnels because of the moronic idea that if the tunnels are built in parallel then they’ll compromise the old tunnels, does not permit it. But even that isn’t true; the grade that would be required is well within the capability of modern EMUs. It’s beyond the capability of 131-ton locomotives, but those shouldn’t be running on a modern commuter railroad anyway.

Alon Levy September 16, 2010 - 2:47 am

I would have hoped for Christie to make a statement that was heavier on governing and lighter on campaigning. There are so many conservatives in the US who in Europe would have been terrific public works managers, but who given the American political climate prefer to make good government impossible.

Bolwerk September 16, 2010 - 12:05 pm

I doubt it. The bulk of them are everything they accuse their political opponents of being, if not even more spendthrift. A Republikan victory this year will not yield the results the teabaggers are demanding, and after a few months the sin of “overspending” will be completely forgotten, as happened in 1995. The main reason is teabagger states are largely propped up by federal spending as is.

What is likely regardless of who wins in November is some token sacrifices to show that “out of control” Washington spending is being reigned in. I’m sure some rail capital projects will be cheerfully put on the chopping block.

Scott E September 16, 2010 - 8:06 am

Perhaps a bit off-topic, but is that an electrified “third rail” that I see off to the right side of the rightmost track? I didn’t think third-rail power extended west of Penn Station except to the LIRR West-Side yard. If it is, this could open up some interoperability possibilities I never knew about.

Subutay Musluoglu September 16, 2010 - 11:06 am

Yes indeed, it is a third rail you see. The original 1910 electrification of all the Penn Station tracks and all six underwater tubes was with a third rail system at 750 v DC. The third rail on the New Jersey side extended as far as the long gone Manhattan Transfer station, which was located on the straightaway south of today’s Kearny connection, near the PATH shops. It was there that passengers on Pennsylvania RR steam trains from across their network made their transfer to electric trains for the last leg of their trip. Through service came later (early 1930s I think) when the PRR installed overhead electrification at 11 kV AC on the Northeast Corridor, through the southern half of NYP, and out through the East River Tunnels into Queens. The third rail has long been cut back – I think it ends short of Secaucus Transfer and may no longer even be energized. There are interoperability possibilities as you suggest, but if you’re thinking of running LIRR trains out to NJ, it may make more sense to buy multi-voltage EMUs equipped with pantographs and third rail shoes (similar to MNR’s NHL fleet but with overrunning shoes of course), rather than extending and rehabilitating the exisitng third rail infrastructure.

Al D September 16, 2010 - 9:02 am

It is this very short-sighted limited intellect myopia that will keep the USA from competing in the not so distant future.

Douglas John Bowen September 16, 2010 - 9:58 am

The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) is with Nathanael on this one–and it’s a position we’ve held for more than 10 years now. If folks chose to ignore us (and our testimony submitted over and again in public hearings, thus documented), they should measure their “woe is us” regrets at the present time.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign is one voice for the New York metro region on transit matters, and it has every right to support the project as it is. Other voices–NJ-ARP, the Empire State Passengers Association, and the Lackawanna Coalition–see things differently. Disagree with us if you must–but have the decency to finally acknowledge (after a decade) that many pro-rail voices have real and serious problems with the proposal as is.

Nathanael September 21, 2010 - 9:40 pm

To be fair, I think Christie is an ass who would kill the project even if it *were* going to Penn Station.

Geoff September 16, 2010 - 11:04 am

Here’s my 5 minute solution to this problem:

In my estimation, the most expensive portion of this project is going to be the new station in Manhattan. It will require the purchase of real estate, new connections to Penn and street level, and a whole new cavern to fit platforms and waiting areas. The cost of this is probably on par with the tunneling of 3 miles under the Hudson.

My solution: As voiced elsewhere, the new ARC tunnels should connect to LIRRs East Side Access. AND, the new station below Grand Central should be used by both agencies. This way, both NJ Transit and LIRR will have two stations in Manhattan and on the opposite sides of midtown.

NJ Transit should offer to cover a portion of the cost of the East Side Access which I assume would still be a lot less than the buildout of a new station underneath Penn. I also understand that the two systems run on different electrical systems. Even with the increased cost of running overhead wires (presumably out to Sunnyside Yards) it should still be less than a new station.

Eric F. September 16, 2010 - 1:41 pm

Did you really write “keep taxes in New Jersey low”. Taxes in NJ are not low. That’s like writing that the governor of Florida is seeking to keep that state “snowy”. Just a cavil.

The Star Ledger editorial was very odd. It stated that by stopping ARC, Christie was jeopardizing $3 billion in federal funding. Ok, but the tunnel will run something around $10 billion. It’s like saying that you’d better buy that $10,000 fur coat, otherwise you’ll let that 30% off coupon go to waste. Can you afford the discounted cost of the coat or not? If NJ does not have $7 billion to apply to this — and NJ is a state of about 8 million people, then what is Christie supposed to do?

Having two tacks from NJ to Manhattan is absurd, as is the two track Portal bridge behind it to the west. I like that the feds are willing to throw about 30% of the cost to address this, but perhaps the entire alignment is a federal concern due to it rendering interstate commerce in the area precarious? We have a stridently pro-rail president, why doesn’t he find another $7 billion, it’s not like he’s kept tight control on his purse these last 2 years.

Phil September 16, 2010 - 1:51 pm

This project is as good as dead, shame.

Woody September 16, 2010 - 2:43 pm

It’s the wrong project. Back to the drawing boards.

Yes, new Hudson River tunnels should get more federal money — if redesigned to accomplish national goals, like much greater capacity for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor trains and cross-state-border connections from Jersey to Long Island and Connecticut.

Meanwhile the economy slides into deflation. Building costs will likely decline, not rise, over the next 5 or 10 or 15 years. And merely postponing this project could possibly reduce costs on the East Side Access and Second Avenue projects as well.

Eric F. September 16, 2010 - 2:53 pm

As to that last part: not sure about economy-wide defaltion, but if anyone is following the big NJ Tpk project in middle-south Jersey, you’d see that they are going to get that done UNDER budget. Bid after bid is coming in UNDER engineer’s estimates. What is it about transit that causes that to never happen? Is it because the Tpk is self-supporting and can’t get a subsidy? Something inherent about road work? I have no idea, but for whatever reason the MTA/NJT seem incapable of capturing the benefits of the construction slowdown the way the Turnpike Authority has.

Alon Levy September 16, 2010 - 4:30 pm

No, the MTA has been capturing some of the benefit – a few of the SAS projects are coming in at half the budget, which means that instead of 7 times more expensive as comparable European projects, they’re only 3 times more expensive.

Alon Levy September 16, 2010 - 4:29 pm

Note to everyone: connecting ARC to ESA is beyond useless. ESA only goes to Long Island, and there’s already an underused, soon to be even more underused connection between Penn Station and Long Island. What would be more helpful is connecting ARC to the existing Grand Central tracks, going to Upstate and Connecticut.

Andrew September 17, 2010 - 4:58 am

There’s already a track connection (via the Hell Gate Bridge, which Amtrak already uses) between NJT and the Metro-North New Haven line. In fact, NJT and Metro-North recently started running joint service to the Meadowlands (with a transfer at Secaucus). Going through Grand Central would only introduce power issues (trains would have to switch from overhead to third rail and back to overhead).

The Metro-North Hudson line also connects to Penn Station, albeit with a different power system and facing the wrong direction for convenient through service from New Jersey. (Through service from Long Island is more likely.)

The only connection not available at all from Penn Station is the Harlem line.

A connection to the existing Grand Central would be more useful than a connection to ESA, but it’s probably not feasible due to everything else at that general level, such as the existing passenger terminal, the Lexington Avenue line, and who knows how many utilities. If nothing else, a connection to ESA would give NJT commuters direct access to the East Side, which they don’t have now. As planned, of the four rail options from New Jersey (the old Penn Station, ARC, and the two PATH lines), three go to basically the same exact place, and none are on the East Side. And for suburb-to-suburb travelers, even if there’s no through service, the passenger transfers at Grand Central would still be useful.

Alon Levy September 17, 2010 - 10:15 am

The New Haven Line connection would allow having two useful routes to New Haven. It introduces power issues, but it allows some trains to keep out of the Acela’s way, which increases capacity.

The Hudson Line connection could be done both ways with Alternative G. If the predicted ridership increases materialize, it will be necessary, to prevent an imbalance in which there’s too much ridership west of Penn and not enough east of Penn.

A passenger transfer at Grand Central between ESA and the existing station would be horrible. It would involve several stories of elevation change, with all that entails. The good transfers worldwide tend to be cross-platform, or as close to cross-platform as possible. Best practice is, as usual, RER-RER transfers at Chatelet-Les Halles. What you’re proposing is more like RER-Métro transfers at Chatelet, which can take 10 minutes from platform to platform and fall under the legal definition of “Hell.”

(Speaking of which, the RER portion of Chatelet-Les Halles is subsurface, even though it was constructed underneath 4 Métro lines. It was actually cheaper than deep-level caverns like Auber.)

But fortunately, a subsurface link would actually work; that was what Alternative G proposed. It wouldn’t be 20 feet underground like the original IRT is, but it wouldn’t have to be 175 feet underground, either. At 60, which is shallower than many first-world cities’ newest subway lines, it would already be able to clear all building foundations.

Nathanael September 21, 2010 - 9:46 pm

The connection to Grand Central has been analyzed. The fact is that there used to be a rail tunnel out of Grand Central to the south for horsecars. This was prior to most of the IRT, so the downtown express track constitutes one problem, but apart from that you’re clear of obstructions for quite a few blocks south of Grand Central. There’s very little UNDER Grand Central or under the former tunnel. Then you can get far enough underground to avoid most existing trouble. The curve to the East River Tunnels is the next iffy part.

Bolwerk September 17, 2010 - 6:59 pm

I understand if it’s not ideal, but I don’t see why it’s useless. It’s a sensible place to at least transfer to GCT, at worst. Access to the northeast corridor/NH line should be available from that route as well. Heck, it’d be cool if Amtrak could even stop there without a long dwell time.

Alon Levy September 17, 2010 - 10:36 pm

No, it’s a horrible transfer. It’s going to make Times Square look heavenly.

Bolwerk September 18, 2010 - 3:54 pm

I guess, but that’s more owing to ESA’s general absurdity. It looks like it will take quite a bit of time just to walk out of the station complex regardless of where you’re coming from.

You may as well put an east side stop/terminal for ARC anywhere in Midtown, but if it happened to be ESA, I hardly see why that would be a bad thing.

Alon Levy September 18, 2010 - 7:10 pm

ESA terminus = ARC can proceed to Long Island, just like the existing Penn Station tracks. Subsurface terminus = ARC can proceed to Harlem, the Bronx, and Westchester, in addition to Long Island through the connection at Penn Station.

There’s a surprisingly large market of commuters from one side of the metro area to another, passing through Manhattan. If I remember correctly, there were about 200,000 such people in 2000 (though to be fair, the largest such markets are Jersey-to-Brooklyn and Jersey-to-Queens, for which how or whether ARC is built is irrelevant).

Brandi September 17, 2010 - 12:56 am

This is still a huge shame. I mean this project has some pretty significant flaws yet getting no extra rail capacity in the next ten years on one of the worst chokepoints on the east coast is very depressing to think about. I’ve been on some of those rush hour trains out of penn and they are insanely crowded. Such political bullshit though reminds me of the Republican governor running in Wisconsin. Let’s just stop the high speed rail cause it’s not really high speed rail. I’m saying you got to start somewhere. None of these projects are going to go anywhere once one of the chambers of congress flips control. Infrastructure and transit in particular will be left to rot. Even those Republicans formerly for it are turning against it. Who cares if it makes your economy and region more viable. The only thing that can make the economy better is tax cuts. /s

Bolwerk September 18, 2010 - 4:06 pm

The longstanding goal of the Republikan Party is to soak non-Republikan states and economic interests to pay for Republikan pet projects. Failure on the part of the bulk of Americans to recognize this has pretty much doomed us to another few years of intractability anyway because the Demokrats, as usual, are afraid of what their puppet masters in the Republikan media think – they’ve been suckered too, because nothing they do will create positive coverage for them. The best they can hope for at this point is coverage that will make the media’s preferred winners this year – the Republikans, through their faux populist uprising, the teabaggers – look as nutty as possible.

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