Home ARC Tunnel Deja vu all over again: ARC Tunnel on last legs

Deja vu all over again: ARC Tunnel on last legs

by Benjamin Kabak

This graphic from Infrastructurist shows how the current NJ Transit tunnels are at capacity.

And there it goes again. The Star-Ledger is once again reporting that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will kill the ARC Tunnel when its two-week reprieve is up on Friday unless alternative funding sources can be identified in the meantime. Based upon comments Christie has issued on the record, the future of this long-planned and badly-needed tunnel may not be bright at all.

Christie said he was comfortable walking away from the project unless the federal government finds another source of money to cover cost overruns on the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, which is projected by Christie’s advisers to cost $2.3 billion to $5.3 billion more than the original $8.7 billion price tag. “I don’t want to hear about the jobs it will create. If I don’t have the money for the payroll,” it will not create the jobs, Christie said. “This is not a difficult decision for me.”

The governor killed the project on Oct. 7 after saying the real cost would be at least $11 billion and that he did not want to put state taxpayers on a “never-ending hook.” The next day, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood persuaded the governor to wait two weeks to explore funding options. “Every person who has criticized this decision, ask them a follow-up,” Christie said this morning. “How would you pay for it? I can’t write the check if there is no money in the account.”

Speaking to rail proponents in Westfield around the same time, [NJ Transit Executive Director Jim] Weinstein said, “At this point, I don’t see how we can afford it.”

Despite these signs, proponents are still pushing hard for the tunnel. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign has put forward a We Need ARC website designed to spur on voter support, and the RPA has run a newspaper ad for $25,000 decrying Christie’s decision. “New Jersey needs ARC,” Tom Wright, executive director of the RPA, said. “Unless transit capacity under the Hudson River can grow with demand, New Jersey has a hard cap on its economic potential. With the 70,000 additional daily riders who would have used ARC, New Jersey would be more connected to New York City and the expanding global economy, companies and workers would continue locating in the Garden State, home construction would pick up, and the value of homes near transit stations would rise by an estimated $18 billion.”

Earlier today, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg hosted two rallies in support of the tunnel, but Christie, in response to recent studies, simply cited costs. “It’s $2-$5 billion over budget,” Chrstie said of Lautenberg’s support, “and if he really is concerned about it, he should go find the money to pay for it.”

After the jump, the RPA’s ad is embedding. Notably, it disputes Christie’s assertion that the project is truly over budget. “Federal and state officials agree that ARC can be built on budget,” it says, “and there won’t be any overruns if New Jersey manages its end of the project.” Click the image below to enlarge.

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Eric F. October 19, 2010 - 12:56 pm

Why doesn’t Lautenberg “rally” his Senate colleagues to fund the thing? Why doens’t he “rally” for a 90% federal match? What cojones.

Marc Shepherd October 19, 2010 - 4:12 pm

There aren’t the votes in the Senate for a 90% federal match, no matter how much “cojones” you have.

However, the ad’s claim that “cost overruns are a myth” is manifestly untrue. Costs have already gone up several times, and only a complete fool could believe they will not go up again.

Whether the costs are as high as Christie is saying, I don’t know. Anyone who says there is no risk in the numbers is kidding themselves.

Rolando P. October 19, 2010 - 1:07 pm

Why doesn’t Christie raise New Jersey’s incredibly low gas tax to fund the thing? New Jersey has the third-lowest gas tax in the US after Alaska and Wyoming and hasn’t raised them
since 1988. What lack of cojones.

Chris October 19, 2010 - 3:11 pm

Even better, why not just raise fares? I expect commuters will happily pay a premium for the shorter commutes and access to the dynamic Manhattan job market.

Alon Levy October 19, 2010 - 1:09 pm

Cost overruns are a myth? Really? Did I just hallucinate that ten years ago the budget for ARC began with a 2?

Avi October 19, 2010 - 1:32 pm

How about just floating a bond? Interest rates are at record lows and if home values will increase $18b, that should generate enough extra property tax money to pay for any cost overruns.

Eric F. October 19, 2010 - 1:53 pm

Rolando P.:

It would be helpful if the RPA/TSTC ad mentioned the gas tax idea. That way people could demand to be taxed to pay for the tunnel rather than simply demand to receive it.

NJ has a relatively low gas tax, but driving in NJ is much more expensive than driving in other states. NJ’s two principal north-south routes are tolled, including tolls dedicated for the tunnel. NJ also has famously high auto insurance rates. The gas tax is one small piece of auto ownership costs.

Given, that commuters to Manhattan tend to make more money than intra-NJ commuters, you also have the rather unusual circumstance that a gas tax used to fund a commuter-tunnel is effectively a regressive tax on lower-paid auto commuters in favor of higher-paid Manhattan train commuters.

Al D October 19, 2010 - 2:02 pm

And yet there is plenty of $ to expand the NJ Tpke to 6 lanes in each direction from exits 6 through 9 and the GSP expansion too. Why doesn’t Christie kill these 2 too if there is no $. Yes, I heard that these rae being paid through toll revenue, but then that says that there IS $ after all.

This is the typical Republican approach. Claim to be for small governement and yet when a project is needed then find someone else to pay for it. They want it both ways. Bait and switch. Smoke and mirrors. Doesn’t the Nassau County Exec basically want the same thing over there?

If Christie lets this go, then he will so far have ‘lost’ $6.4 bn in free money he could have had for his consituents.

For heaven’s sake, raise the gas tax a few measly pennies!

Al D October 19, 2010 - 2:05 pm

Just a follow on thought, but how about building just 1 of the 2 tunnels? Would take care of Christie’s share of the money that he wants to divert to the car industry whilst definitely adding capacity?

Joe October 19, 2010 - 2:12 pm

I would like to hear if this idea is some sort of a viable alternative to the full ARC project, and building just a single tube would necessitate connecting it to the existing Penn Station rather than the ARC’s proposed deep station. It could be a reversible track for traffic in and out of Penn Station. But I wonder how much relief it would provide to the existing tubes, I had thought that even in the off peak direction, the existing tunnels were at capacity.

John October 19, 2010 - 3:05 pm

The single-tunnel option only works if it’s connected into Penn Station, since that would offer the option of using one of the other tunnels if there was some sort of train/rail/signal problem. Bollocks up a single tunnel into the new 34th Street dungeon with no Penn access to the two existing tunnels and that’s pretty much it for the day as far as getting anyone to or from New Jersey.

Adirondacker12800 October 19, 2010 - 9:33 pm

Once the trains get to Manhattan they have to go someplace. You need two tunnels, so once they drop off all their passengers they can head back to New Jersey and pick up some more.

Scott E October 20, 2010 - 9:27 am

Not only that, but all rush-hour trains would need to do that. Unlike the current Penn (where NJT drops off AM rush passengers, then parks its trains in Sunnyside Yards in Queens, awaiting the PM rush), the new ARC plan doesn’t continue on to Queens; trains would need to be stored either underneath Manhattan (not much space) or back in NJ.

All the more reason to stop operating Penn as a station and change it to a station. If Christie can jump-start this effort, which would need lots of coordination with LIRR, I might be able to support it. But to just kill the project without an alternative troubles me.

Christopher October 19, 2010 - 2:09 pm

Isn’t construction that’s paid for “through tolls” a myth? Has their ever been a project where the tolls themselves entirely cover the cost of the road? (To say nothing of the cost of the of upkeep?)

Although I suspect with GSP and the Tpke some of that costs come from Stimulus spending. Ah yes, decry the cost of federal government — but do so with your hand out for more! The modern GOP!

Marc Shepherd October 19, 2010 - 4:14 pm

Well, Robert Moses built numerous projects where the tolls not only paid for the road, but with money left over.

Christopher October 19, 2010 - 4:56 pm

Except the operation of the bridges wasn’t entirely supported, right? I mean they deferred maintenance and still required federal and state assistance to maintain, right?

Alon Levy October 19, 2010 - 6:38 pm

No, it was entirely supported. They didn’t defer maintenance all that much, not in the Moses era. The real subsidies were to all the toll-free highway networks feeding the crossings controlled by Moses and the PA.

Eric F. October 19, 2010 - 4:12 pm

Because the Turnpike project is toll financed, that’s why.

Christopher October 19, 2010 - 4:54 pm

Entirely? Or with aid from stimulus monies? I assume other aspects of the Tpke receive NJ assistance — upkeep etc — and that tolls don’t entirely pay for it all.

Adirondacker12800 October 19, 2010 - 10:59 pm

In theory the toll roads in New Jersey pay for themselves. Even down to paying the state police to patrol the road. What doesn’t show up is all the stuff that’s beyond the exit ramps that isn’t paid for by tolls and would make the road next to useless if it wasn’t there. Then there’s things like the toll roads not paying property taxes. ..but on paper tolls cover all the expenses,

Stewart Clamen October 20, 2010 - 9:42 am

Last time I checked, everyone using the ARC Tunnel was going to be tolled as well.

Douglas John Bowen October 19, 2010 - 2:14 pm

Long-planned, yes. Badly needed, not in this form. Because it also has been badly planned, despite rhetoric to the contrary released by Tri-State and PIRG.

Indeed, odd that the latter reached out to us to support its last-ditch plea for ARC’s survival, even as the former spurns and ridicules any idea that some rail advocates just don’t see it the way Tri-State does. Wouldn’t be the first time, to be fair to all parties.

Douglas John Bowen October 19, 2010 - 2:17 pm

And look at the inbedded admission: “would enable New Jersey commuters … ” Not regional rail riders. No. New Jersey commuters. All this for $8.7 billion, which IS higher than original budget, for better or worse. Quibble about money and who should supply it (a U.S. Senate backer, an anti-transit governor) and either has a point. But don’t claim the cost hasn’t risen, as the ad does.

Andy Battaglia October 19, 2010 - 4:11 pm

Why do people keep saying there is “no connection to Penn Station?” There most certainly will be a connection to Penn Station. It will be an underground concourse no different than the long hallway that connects the 7th and 8th Avenue sides of the existing Penn. In addition, it will provide a NEW connection to the 6th Avenue subway line and because it is an extra avenue east, it will expand the possibility for people to walk to work in Midtown. Why are people pretending that piling even MORE people into the existing cramped hallways of Penn would be a better option than a new station with connections? Most people heading into Penn hop on the E-train for Midtown East anyway. People heading into the new ARC station can either walk or take any of the 6th Avenue subway trains. Aside from this station being very deep and requiring lots of escalators and elevators, I don’t see an issue with the location.

Eric F. October 19, 2010 - 4:14 pm

It’s an awesome location! That’s why it was Plan C. They always save their best plan as the third option. Plan D is to have it end in the middle of the Hudson and have people scuba the rest of the way. That one costs 7 billion.

Christopher October 19, 2010 - 5:00 pm

Snark aside. If Andy is right, and the evaluation for A/B was that it’s only a good location if it connects to an already overtasked facility. Than it maybe it is the best location as the evaluation criteria were wrong. And deep stations aren’t necessarily a bad thing. NY’s transit system relative shallowness is relatively unique.

Alon Levy October 19, 2010 - 6:44 pm

Deep stations aren’t a bad thing, if you’re trying to spend more money. If you’re trying to spend less, you usually want the station to be as shallow as possible.

If you hear about a successful deep-level subway construction, it could be one of two things. One is a subway tunnel, not just a station; building subway tunnels deep is not especially expensive, because it can be done with a TBM. Another is a station that has to be very deep because there’s no room at the subsurface level; those tend to be very expensive and can lead to cancellation of future projects.

What you don’t see happen in Madrid of Paris or Seoul or any other low-cost city is building a deep-level cavern when there’s a subsurface station to connect to. The cavern is a solution of last resort, not first resort.

Alon Levy October 19, 2010 - 6:58 pm

Andy, the problem is not the location. The problem is that the nearest track connection to Penn Station is going to be in New Jersey. Best industry practice all over the world is not to construct commuter rail to just shuttle people to one CBD – it’s to make it work like urban transit on a larger scale, with easy connections to other lines.

AlexB October 19, 2010 - 6:10 pm

If this doesn’t connect to Penn Station, except for pedestrians, why locate is at Penn Station at all? Why not put it right under the Port Authority Bus Termal? Compared to the Penn Station area, there are a lot more jobs closer to the PABT than Penn.

Scott E October 19, 2010 - 8:19 pm

I wondered, too, why even target the Penn Station “area” for the new station, and figured it’s either because (1) redundancy; from the NJ side, trains can be routed to the older “upper-level” tracks or the newer “lower-level” tracks as needed, with less disruption to passengers, or (2) because that’s just the way we’ve always done it.

Regarding the PABT as a train station, while not a bad idea in concept, I’d suspect the main problems are the presence of the Lincoln Tunnel and the #7 Subway extension which would get in the way.

If we could do it over, I’d say the PATH should be built as an extension of the commuter-rail line between Newark and WTC and Hoboken and WTC. Long Islanders have dreamed of direct downtown access. New Jersey residents have it, only it requires a transfer to a slower, lower capacity train.

Avi October 19, 2010 - 10:36 pm

Scott, the Path tunnels are already considered heavy rail by FRA. So NJT could run through them.

I’ve often said that instead of rebuilding office buildings downtown that no one wants, a massive new transit hub should have been created. NJT could have been routed through the Path Tunnels and connected with the long planned LIRR tunnel between Atlantic Ave and Wall Street. Providing easy service to Wall Street for Long Island and NJ commuters would have done a lot more to help downtown then a bunch of new buildings. But of course, that ship has sailed.

Alon Levy October 19, 2010 - 11:00 pm

PATH is built to IRT loading gauge, which is about 1.5 feet narrower than the mainline rail loading gauge. NJT couldn’t run on PATH under any regulatory regime.

Eric F. October 20, 2010 - 9:05 am

The PATH line between Jersey City and 33rd Street is also too twisty to handle commuter rail cars. That train must average no more than 10 mph and has mandatory stops beteen New Jersey and Manhattan. That is not a line to be used by people who have claustrophobia.

Avi October 20, 2010 - 9:32 am

Are you sure? PATH used to share track with the PRR.


John October 20, 2010 - 10:18 am

They shared trackage in New Jersey, but not the tunnels under the Hudson. The Long Island Railroad used to run trains into Lower Manhattan via the BMT’s Broadway-Brooklyn elevated line and the Williamsburgh Bridge to the current Chambers Street J/Z station, but that was with shorter cars that could handle the subway curves. Modern rail cars are far to long to handle those curves, let alone the even sharper turns of the PATH tracks in Manhattan.

Scott E October 20, 2010 - 9:35 am

When I said “do it over”, I didn’t mean do ARC over… I meant redo decades-old or century-old systems.

But if the JSQ-to-WTC or HOB-to-WTC parts could be made to carry heavy rail, it could be worth considering. The piece going up Sixth Avenue is redundant with the subway and doesn’t need heavy-rail. It could remain an IRT-gauge rapid-transit-like shuttle from JSQ/HOB to midtown.

But now we’re talking about coordination between NJT, PA, and MTA. That’s a pipe dream.

Eric F. October 20, 2010 - 11:10 am

If you are dreaming, I’d recommend as a semi-feasible plan, double-tracking the PATH from Newark to WTC. You could then run a Newark-WTC express line in maybe 10-15 minutes using existing rolling stock, and speed up the remaining trains in the process. You are going to have brand new stations at WTC in less than 5 years that could make transferring from WTC uptown much easier than it is now.

Alon Levy October 20, 2010 - 2:31 pm

Widening tunnels is expensive. That’s why nobody’s tried to widen the underground portions of the IRT that have restricted loading gauge. Converting the elevated Astoria Line from IRT to BMT standards was easy; doing the same to the Contract 1 and 2 IRT and the Steinway Tunnels, all built before the BMT chose its wider loading gauge, is prohibitive.

Akiva October 21, 2010 - 1:15 am

That ad above is such a political farce. Christie isnt against the project. He is just being fiscally cinservative

Why TEA Is Bigger Than DADT « Straßgefühl October 27, 2010 - 2:12 pm

[…] next week, I’d like to remind them that Chris Christie just killed the ARC project for the second time in two […]


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