Home ARC Tunnel Report: New Jersey pulls plug on ARC Tunnel

Report: New Jersey pulls plug on ARC Tunnel

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)

Via Andrea Bernstein at Transportation Nation:

Three sources familiar with the $8.7 billion tunnel under the Hudson river from NJ, say, barring an unexpected, last-minute change of heart from Governor Chris Christie, the ARC transit tunnel under the Hudson river is dead. The sources say Christie will likely announce this week that he’s restructuring NJ’s portion of the money to go to roads. The FTA and the Port Authority will recoup their $3 billion each, though the Port’s money will likely go into other regional projects.

The writing had been on the wall for this project since September 13 when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suspended work on it to “review costs.” The state’s leaders feared that the $8.7-billion price tag was too conservative and that the state would be forced to pony up money it didn’t have. At one point, Christie claimed that the project could cost $5 billion more than expected.

On September 16, as activists urged Christie to resume work on the project, I explored the governor’s wavering commitment to the much-needed transit project, and by September 21, it seemed clear that New Jersey would takes its tunnel investment and siphon it into its transit fund with a heavy emphasis on road spending. That’s exactly what appears to be happening.

As recently as yesterday, New Jersey officials confirmed that the ARC Tunnel money could go into New Jersey’s empty transportation coffers. “I don’t know,” Jim Simpson, Christie’s transportation commissioner, said in response to questions of the funds’ future, “but let’s look at the source of the money. You’ve got a billion dollars of federal money that comes to the New Jersey Department of Transportation that would normally be associated with highway projects. You’ve got that billion coming in—100 million a year—that is rededicated, flexed to ARC. So if ARC didn’t happen there’s a billion dollars for roads and bridges and things like that.”

The ARC money will most likely be funneled into New Jersey’s near-empty Transportation Trust Fund. While some of the money will go to rail — the past breakdown is available here — any New Jersey transit upgrades will pale in comparison with the potential future benefits to the region and state from the ARC Tunnel.

And so, there appears to be no future for this project. Michael Bloomberg said that, as this project has long been New Jersey’s baby, the city will not step in to fill the funding void. The Port Authority has expressed its support, but without New Jersey’s $3 billion contribution, the PA doesn’t have the money to keep it going. The Port Authority has not yet said how it will deploy the money it had committed to the ARC project.

While Transportation Nation called this a huge blow to a transit-oriented Obama Administration, the impact of this decision wille extend well beyond Washington. Despite the project’s flaws, the region needs to increase its rail capacity into and out of Manhattan. With Christie’s decision, the Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel will remain but a dream on paper, and the Access to the Region’s Core will not be improved. What a shame.

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Ira B. October 5, 2010 - 5:11 pm

This is such a short-sighted decision. Where the hell do we in NJ find these folks to run our state?

Chuck October 6, 2010 - 9:07 am

Ira – my guess is we found him frequenting all you can eat buffets and decided to elect him for some insane reason, oh yeah…Corzine is the reason he was elected. Ugh.

Kid Twist October 6, 2010 - 10:22 am

Yes. Let’s make fun of the man’s weight.

Marc Shepherd October 6, 2010 - 9:33 am

What makes big transit projects so tough, is that invariably a new set of political leaders is elected, with opposite priorities.

Already, hundreds of millions have been spent on this project that are sunk costs. A decade or two will go by, someone will wake up and realize it’s still needed, and the whole design process will have to be repeated.

The Second Avenue Subway has been designed something like 6 times.

oscar October 5, 2010 - 5:16 pm

not too late to slam them with phone calls, perhaps there is a chance to change his mind.

an incredibly short-sighted decision

John Paul N. October 6, 2010 - 8:25 am

If NJ residents near rail lines realize that their house values will drop, that’s exactly what they should do. (I credit Rob B. for his comment over here.)

Lawrence Velazquez October 5, 2010 - 5:17 pm

Great job, New Jersey. Way to go.

Tim October 5, 2010 - 5:26 pm

And this is why I’ll never live west of the Hudson. I hope the jersey folks who pined for a conservative governor enjoy delayed commutes and sub-optimal service, because this has officially killed any chance of them getting better service for a while.

Jerrold October 5, 2010 - 7:48 pm

That’s right, that’s what happens when the people elect an ultraconservative Republican. Let’s just hope that this does NOT happen on a national scale in 2012. It’s horrifying to imagine a far-right President being elected because the people are disappointed by Obama’s failure to make miracles.
And THIS year in New York State, let’s not make the mistake of electing that madman Paladino.

James Garner October 8, 2010 - 9:26 pm

Listen; grow up, don’t try to spend money you don’t have. $1,600 from every man, woman, and child in the NJ is ridiculous just so some people can cross the Hudson a little quicker. Life can be great west of the Hudson.

John Paul N. October 6, 2010 - 8:33 am

They pay some of the highest taxes, so I can’t fault them for wanting a conservative governor. But particularly for NJ, it needed to elect a conservative pro-transit governor, but increasingly that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Nesta October 6, 2010 - 8:42 am

U bash Paladino but a vote for Cuomo is a vote for the same good ole boys politics in Albany!

John Paul N. October 6, 2010 - 9:21 am

I don’t think I said anything about Paladino. But since you brought it up, I don’t like either NY gubernatorial candidate. As a moderate Republican, I’m going to reluctantly support Cuomo. (I wouldn’t have liked Lazio either because he doesn’t sound pro-transit.) If a viable third party candidate steps up to the plate (not Bloomberg), I’ll support that person in a heartbeat.

Nesta October 6, 2010 - 9:57 am

I was referring to the comment above yours, sorry for the confusion. I completely agree with you that neither candidate for NY governor is any good but I cannot vote for Cuomo. He is too much part of the establishment that has ruined this state and city.

John October 5, 2010 - 5:29 pm

If the project somehow gets resurrected in the near future (4-6 years) as a plan that adds a third and/or fourth tunnel into an expanded Penn Station, then allowing the new tunnel(s) connections to the East River tunnels, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to see the current tunnel project (into the ‘super sub-basement’ train terminal on 34th Street that’s not accessible to any of the existing trackage) go away.

The downside, of course, is based on the history of the Second Ave. line or even the Cross-Harbor tunnel, once plans go away in the NY-NJ area, they go away for a long, long time…

Pat October 5, 2010 - 5:35 pm

John’s 100% right, IF this gets resurrected and somehow, could be expanded and connected into either GCT or the East River Tunnels once the Water Tunnel expansion project is finished, then this could be a blessing in disguise.

I don’t see it that way, given all the fiscal troubles that states and municipalties are undergoing for now and the forseeable future. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that may never be completed if this gets cut off. The fact that the money is being used to plug a leak in a gigantic dam only makes this hurt even more. Living in New Jersey just got a little but more unbearable today…

Anon October 5, 2010 - 5:37 pm

Maybe they should privatize the tunnel…
then again maybe not

Marcus October 5, 2010 - 6:07 pm

And this, boys and girls, is what happens when you vote GOP.

SEAN October 5, 2010 - 8:36 pm

In a few words you said it all. If the T party makes serious headway, transit is screwed. It already happened to Falls Church VA & outside Atlanta where transit service was stopped outright.

John Paul N. October 6, 2010 - 7:53 am

You should make that ultraconservative GOP as that is what it has become these days. Arnold Schwarzenegger (pro-HSR) and other moderate Republicans are a dying breed.

Kid Twist October 6, 2010 - 10:26 am

This is what happens when irresponsible Democrats bleed the state coffers dry. You can’t pay for everything, and now it seems there’s now no money left for the important stuff. Nice going.

Walter October 5, 2010 - 7:00 pm

New York should now make it as difficult as possible for New Jersey commuters to get into the city (increased tunnel tolling perhaps), while also improving LIRR service and introducing MNRR service into Penn Station. Then hope the feds give the funds to the state to work on the Tappan Zee bridge, with a transit component into Rockland County. I know it’s not really fair, but one state cannot hold the region’s economy hostage because of some deferred highway work in the burbs. Votes do have consequences, and NJ will have to face them now.

Or just give it to Connecticut; we can really use that money on the NEC or Hartford Line.

SEAN October 5, 2010 - 8:39 pm

I think the money you are talking about was just redirected. Although I like the idea.

patrick C October 5, 2010 - 9:31 pm

i want to know what is going to happen to the federal funds? is that going to stay in the NYC metro? it should, it should go to upgrading the NEC or other transit project in the NY area (ie the tappan zee bridge replacement). as much as i hate to say it, the tunnel was ill designed, it was stump with only 8 tracks and no way for expansion

Rob October 5, 2010 - 9:48 pm

I’m sorry this happened but there is no money for this right now. It’s time to cut spending. This is a good move for the time being.

Benjamin Kabak October 5, 2010 - 9:49 pm

The money’s there if the project is on budget, but Christie is reaching for straw-dollars so to speak. Unless he can prove this project will definitely be over budget and by the amount he says, pulling the plug reeks of a short-sighted political move.

Adam October 5, 2010 - 10:23 pm

The project was (gasp!) on time AND on budget.

Alon Levy October 6, 2010 - 12:50 am

The project was on-budget after severe padding. In other developed countries, tunnels don’t get approved if they cost billions per km. ARC would be great at one third the budgeted cost, and with a connection to the existing infrastructure instead of a completely unnecessary cavern 175 feet under Penn Station.

Andrew D. Smith October 6, 2010 - 4:44 pm

Agreed. You cannot spend $9 billion on a 3.5-mile tunnel with just two tracks.

Projects like this do not help the cause of public transit. They merely confirm the suspicions of most Americans that public transit is an absurd waste of money that enriches connected contractors and organized crime and government employees at the expense of everyone else.

Before we build any major projects in this country, we need to find out how to get our costs into line. Once we do that, the cost/benefit analysis will show major gains to this stuff and we’ll have real projects.

Alon Levy October 5, 2010 - 9:51 pm


If only East Side Access and the 7 extension could be canceled for their equally egregious waste of money…

Older and Wiser October 6, 2010 - 2:02 pm

Add Fulton Street to your “egregious waste of money” list and I’ll vote for you for Governor.

pea-jay October 5, 2010 - 9:53 pm

Just wait til after this Nov election. There are several governors campaigning on the platform of rejecting *already approved* stimulus dollars for high speed rail in their states. WI and OH come to mind immediately but FL is another potential rejector. This will free up some $$ for states with more farsighted governance. Surely NY and CT can position themselves to capture those funds and angle for the federal share of NJ’s match to be spent on this side of the Hudson.

Evan F. Boccardi October 5, 2010 - 10:18 pm

To be honest with you, and no disrespect, that’s democracy for you. These dopes across the Hudson said, “We’re spending too much!” Christie said, “I won’t raise taxes!” A four year old child has the brains to work out what comes next; What goes up must come down. The money to reduce their deficit wasn’t going to come out of mid-air. It was going to come from cutting services. They thought they were getting a deal with no tax raises. In the end, they simply got it in the back.

And you know what? It’s their own damn fault. I’m voting for Cuomo, protecting my transit interests, and I tell you this. it’ll be a cold day in Hell before I move to Jersey.

Adam October 5, 2010 - 10:20 pm

Christie DID raise taxes. I’m paying him more than I did last year.

Chuck October 6, 2010 - 9:09 am

Wow, a New Yorker bashing NJ? That NEVER happens…stay away from the Garden State Plaza on Saturday then. We have enough traffic.

Edward October 6, 2010 - 10:42 am

Don’t take it personally Chuck. Many NYers, especially those that visit this blog, love to throw around an air of superiority just because they pay $2000 a month to live in a closet in a 120-year-old building. Then they ride the subway for a lousy $2.25 and bitch that it costs too much and is never on time.

Anyone with a pair of eyes can see the difference between NYers and NJ residents: take a ride on the very clean, non-pissy smelling PATH train and you’ll see what I mean.

Edward October 6, 2010 - 10:38 am

I’m sure the 7 million people who live in NJ will get along just fine without you.

Evan F. Boccardi October 6, 2010 - 11:28 am

Excuse me, but I’m not bashing New Jersey. I’m merely saying that I can never really consider it as a place to live, because it’s already hard to get to work, and it’s about to get harder.

I was merely making a point about how people elect Republicans and they make promises that the people don’t think twice about the consequences of.

I personally like New Jersey, many members of my family live in New Jersey, and I think it’s a lovely state. And I wish your Hudson-Bergen light rail were something we’d implement here in the underserved boroughs of Staten Island and Queens.

Edward October 6, 2010 - 11:43 am

And again I say, New Jersey will get along fine without you. Worry about your own commute on your pissy-smelling, filthy subway. It ain’t just Republicans who have made a mess of mass transportation. NY State Democrats are just as much to blame for the absolutely disgraceful condition of mass transit of late.

Evan F. Boccardi October 6, 2010 - 12:24 pm

I’ll enjoy my 468 station, cheap as free, pissy subway. Enjoy your taxes for your precious patch of grass!

Edward October 6, 2010 - 1:52 pm

That’s true Evan! NYC and State residents are some of the lowest taxed residents in the country, lol.

Alon Levy October 6, 2010 - 1:57 pm

I actually like the HBLR, too, as an example of how New York-area waste is not just an underground matter. We’re talking about a light rail line that cost about $40,000 per weekday rider, on account of its grossly inflated construction costs. For all of the handwaving I get from some people about how Manhattan’s geology is uniquely bad for tunneling, surface transit in Jersey turns out to be just as bad. It demonstrates what’s a worst-case scenario, which helps demonstrate what could be possible in a better-run city.

Adam October 5, 2010 - 10:31 pm

The time for standing on the sidelines is over. I think it’s time for us to start a movement to make sure ARC is built, or at least to make sure the money is used for transit projects and not for a one-time bailout of the general fund. Otherwise I’m going to start referring to this administration as “Pedro Espada in NJ.”

Brandi October 6, 2010 - 12:28 am

While this project is very far from perfect, anyone who thinks the project will resurface in 5 years time is an optimist to the point of delusion. This is the end of any new rail capacity across the Hudson for twenty years. It is a shame cause it seems like most transit advocates for the last month seem to want to complain about how it isn’t perfect when they really should have been rallying behind one of the biggest transit projects in the country. Everyone should still write to support it.

On the other hand, seems very fiscally stupid to hand back a $3 Billion dollar commitment to increase mobility in your state from the feds. Mobility is key to any thriving economy. What a short sighted idiot. Also great that he just threw away the $600 million that was put into the project. Way to lead on the feds and the people of New Jersey on.

John Paul N. October 6, 2010 - 7:13 am

I am disappointed by the withdrawal, don’t get me wrong. But maybe it is for the best. If only the money went to fund a rail link between Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, many current transit problems would be solved, and better than this tunnel dead-ending on the West Side. A Penn Station bypass would be an additional plus. When built, Amtrak would be able to relocate to GCT, freeing space for NJ Transit. The current Amtrak corridors on the West Side and the line that goes through the Hell Gate Bridge could be repurposed for new services, including the TriboroRX. True interlining between NJ Transit and Metro-North would also be possible. State politics are the major barrier to this proposal (NY territory for a project that would benefit NJ more), but perhaps the PANYNJ can get involved here.

Senator Moynihan could have championed this project for transit mobility, but no, he wanted to have his name on an extension/redevelopment of Penn Station instead.

R2 October 6, 2010 - 9:13 am

Stick a fork in NJ; it’s done. So much for economic competitiveness.

If I knew how, I’d short New Jersey…..at least someone should make money off this.

And so much for my future more frequent trips to Asbury Park (via NJ transit as always). Christie, my tourist dollars will happily go elsewhere.

Al D October 6, 2010 - 9:21 am

It’s the 1950s, all over again…

Al D October 6, 2010 - 11:59 am

…except in most of the rest of the world where it actually is 2010.

Joe October 6, 2010 - 9:44 am

Somehow it’s ok to blow billions of dollars into a glorified PATH Station at the new WTC, but a desperately needed tunnel gets axed. Another stupid decision by yet another stupid NJ politician. It’s the transit equivalent of how poorly the state is run.

And to those comments about “making it difficult for New Jersey commuters to get into the city” – give me a break. If the flow of people coming into NY from NJ suddenly stopped, NY’s economy would take a massive hit. It’s vital to the economy of the city. And this is coming from a native NYer.

Al D October 6, 2010 - 12:14 pm

Perhaps the most could be made out of this opportunity to correct some of the flaws of this project that have been pointed out. For example, not having the new station directly connect with the old station. Isn’t this exactly the thing that MTA has been working to correct over the years? There are many, many transfers that did not exist, 10, 20, 30 years ago that now many people just take for granted. And news 1 are in the works: B’way-Lafayette, Fulton St, Court Sq, Jay-Lawrence as examples

Eric F. October 6, 2010 - 1:41 pm

There could be a close-to-ideal coda to this story. If the money was all redirected to the Portal Bridge Project, you’d have that fully funded. That project takes an obsolete, constantly breaking down two track bridge and convertes it to a twin-span five track alignemt. You still have the tunnel bottleneck, but you remove the bottleneck between Manhattan and Kearney. That project would increase train speeds and improve relaibility. It’s fully permitted and it should be expedited. Putting money into that would improve both the Amtrak and NJ Transit experience. Building the tunnel without doing Portal is effectively useless, because you go from a 4 track alignment to the Kearney bottleneck, and so this should be viewedd as facilitating future tunnel additions.

I’m not saying that anyone is thinking this way, but it’s an obvious way to salvage some good from this. Also, and this is just my romantacism talking, but the renderings of Portal show that it would be perhaps the most beautiful rail bridge on the NEC.

Joe October 6, 2010 - 1:47 pm

I thought Portal Bridge was funded. If it’s not, then, yeah, redirect the money there. That bridge is a bigger bottleneck than the tunnels, IMO.

I also agree with Al D. As much as I want to see this move forward, the fact that the tunnel will only connect with 6 of what will be 27 tracks at Penn is ridiculous. It won’t help the other 21 tracks when a train breaks down in the old Hudson River tunnels. I know the engineering of such a connection is incredibly complex – but I don’t think it’s completely impossible.

Alon Levy October 6, 2010 - 1:51 pm

Joe, stop listening to agency rationalizations. Please. You might as well believe the Bush administration that there was a serious case that Saddam had WMD.

The engineering of Alt G was quite straightforward; the engineering of an option that perfectly paralleled the old tunnels would’ve been even simpler, but such an option wasn’t even studied because some people decided that going one block within the existing tunnels would somehow compromise them. NJT and Port Authority chose an alignment that hit known obstacles, and within that alignment made the maximally complex decision to go with a cavern.

Alon Levy October 6, 2010 - 1:48 pm

A four-track Portal Bridge isn’t useful without a four-track tunnel into Manhattan. It’s the tunnel that poses the capacity constraint, not a bridge that even Jersey can expand on a billion dollars.

The ARC project includes a track connection from the Erie lines to the tunnel; the fantasy is that dual-mode locomotives would allow direct service from the Erie lines to Penn Station, obviating the need for the botched, completely mismanaged Secaucus transfer. This all happens downstream of Portal Bridge.

Al D October 6, 2010 - 2:00 pm

I believe that the supposition was that ‘small tail wags big dog’

Eric F. October 6, 2010 - 2:59 pm

Alon, let’s look at this point-by-point.

First –quibble — new Portal is five tracks, not four.

Second, moving a bottleneck down the line will increase capacity, it limits the area of congestion.

Third, the current Portal bridge, even entering into a two track tunmnel alingnment is a CURRENT source of delays on the NEC. The bridge malfunctions, causing delays and reliability issues. The bridge also requires speed supression between Manhattan and Newark. The new bridge is billed as upping speed limits to 90 mph. in that area.

Fourth, having the extra tracks on the approaches also lets you do maintenance without taking out the line. I cab’t tell you how many times I’m stuck on segments of a highway with two lanes in each direction when a lane needs to be taken out for routine maintenance — when that happens the road’s capacity drops dramatically, even by more than 50%.

Anyway, if I were Christie I’d get Portal done and do it before my next campaign. Anyone who takes the NEC would appreciate the improvement.

Eric F. October 6, 2010 - 3:09 pm

Oh, and Alon, I like your casual implication that Bush lied and intentionally murdered thousands of people. Tell us a little about Halliburton. Can you speak on that subject a bit? Does that tie into the 7 train extension somehow?

Alon Levy October 6, 2010 - 4:53 pm

I don’t think Bush intentionally murdered people. I didn’t even say he lied; I honestly don’t know if he did, or if he and his advisors just deluded themselves.

Which, in a way, is exactly what I think about people who strike the most cost-effective options from every Alternatives Analysis. It’s unclear whether they’re lying in order to direct more pork to favored contractors or just clueless and too arrogant to admit mistake, but at the end the effect is the same: we do less with more.

Alon Levy October 6, 2010 - 3:11 pm

1. I know the Portal Bridge project says 5 tracks. I stated the number of tracks necessary to kill the bottleneck, not the number of tracks NJT wants to splurge on.

2. Moving the bottleneck does not increase capacity in this case. Unlike in the case of a single-track segment on an otherwise double-track line, a double-track segment on a four-track line limits capacity by the same amount regardless of how long it is.

3. The speed issue is real, you’re right. It’s important for Amtrak and for NJT, and is not hugely expensive for the time saved. But it’s billed as a capacity improvement, which without ARC it’s not. Besides, the speed restrictions would partly go away if NJT replaced its loco-hauled trains by EMUs; even FRA-compliant EMUs would vastly reduce axle load, and noncompliant EMUs could more than halve it.

4. While multi-tracking simplifies maintenance, it generally doesn’t simplify it more than an equivalent investment in doing maintenance right: this means trains that don’t destroy the tracks, and maintenance crews working intensively through the night, as in Japan. Bear in mind that the part where maintenance is the most difficult is in the tunnel, for which there’s legitimate grounds for four-tracking.

Eric F. October 6, 2010 - 4:16 pm

My bottom line is that if Christie walked out of Trenton in 2013 with Portal done, I’d say it would at least be a highly useful addition to the NEC. I understand you don’t agree. One further quibble, is you noted that the project is $1 billion. Not sure if that was a thought out figure on your part, but the project, which also involves additional tracks on teh approaches, is more like $2.5 billion. This is a serious pieece of infrastructure. It must be the biggest project in the northeast that no one has heard of. At that cost it’s more than 2 times the cost of a new Goethals bridge.

Alon Levy October 6, 2010 - 4:51 pm

I thought it was a billion based on my memory of Amtrak’s NEC Master Plan.

I just checked the Master Plan and it turns out to be $1.8 billion, which astounds me; the same plan claims $250 million for just replacing the two-track bridge. The $1.8 billion is split as $750 million for Amtrak and $1.05 billion for NJT, which is by itself Doing It Wrong.

I agree that it’s a serious piece of infrastructure, but without some form of ARC it’s not too useful.

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