Home 7 Line Extension Real estate lobby embraces 7 plans as feds do not

Real estate lobby embraces 7 plans as feds do not

by Benjamin Kabak

A rough sketch of the proposed 7 line extension to Secaucus. (Via The Wall Street Journal)

In writing yesterday about the city’s nascent plan to extend the 7 train to Secaucus, New Jersey, I touched briefly on those who stand to benefit the most from the plan. As with the current iteration of the city-funded 7 line extension, real estate interests — in particular, those of Related who are in line to develop the Hudson Yards — have the most riding on this project. By connecting a new mixed-use center with both New Jersey and the popular 7 line, Related would be able to draw thousands of people to an area of the city that’s currently among the least transit-accessible in Manhattan.

In fact, on Monday night, before the story broke in The Times, Stephen M. Ross, the CEO of Related, endorsed this project in a conversation with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “I think it’s a great idea and it could save a ton of money,” Ross said to The Times.

The Real Estate Board of New York has also embraced the idea, and this influential group is now lobbying hard for fast action. “Every developer I’ve spoken to thinks it’s a terrific, simple idea,” REBNY President Steven Spinola said. “They all think it will be wonderful…“It sounds like a real solution [to the cross-Hudson capacity problems]. You’re able to provide the transportation needs, yet at a substantially lower cost.”

I’ve written before about the way transit advocates need real estate interests but need to be wary of them, and that certainly applies here. You won’t see REBNY advocating for a Nostrand Ave. subway or the Triboro RX plan which will lead to improvements but not of the same potential that we see here.You will see them advocating for a 7 line extension when the benefits to their interests are obvious. They have the political clout though to be heard in Washington, City Hall and Albany, something with which advocates have not been overly successful lately.

The real estate lobby isn’t the only one embracing this plan. Both the Daily News and New York Times editorial boards supported this project today. “The benefits,” says the News, “would include expanded bistate rail capacity, a potential easing in auto congestion and a spur to growth on the West Side and construction of a new No. 7 station at 42nd St. and 10th Ave.”

The Times highlighted how this seems to be a natural extension of the 7 line. “What makes the Bloomberg concept intriguing is that much of the drilling for this subway tunnel is already being done in Manhattan,” the Gray Lady says. “For the other tunnel that was scrapped by Governor Christie, known as ARC, the biggest cost would have been for a new corridor deep under Manhattan’s Far West Side. ARC’s total cost was edging up to $11 billion before it was canceled. ‘ARC-lite,’ as some city officials are calling the Bloomberg tunnel, has an estimated cost of about $5.3 billion.”

A rougher sketch of the proposed 7 line extension to Secaucus. (Via Subway to Secaucus)

Now, while Bloomberg’s proposal has garnered headlines, it’s not the first time the idea of a subway to Secaucus has been floated. A few years ago, Ralph Braskett and Steve Lanset put forward their Subway to Secaucus proposal, and it appears that Bloomberg has drawn from it. Questions remain concerning funding. Will the feds pay for this subway extension?

According to various transit advocates, if the feds do fund part of this project, it won’t be with ARC Tunnel money. “The $3 billion has disappeared,” the RPA’s Jeff Zupan said to the Daily News. “They’re not going to turn around and say, ‘okay, you have a better idea now, we’ll give you the money.’ It’s not going to happen.”

Federal officials believe that the FTA will not work too hard to keep this money in the northeast because of anger over Christie’s decision-making process. Rather, it will go to other New Starts projects, and one Daily News source said that the odds are “slim to none” that the Secaucus subway will get ARC money.

Mayor Bloomberg though remained hopefully that other money could find its way to this grand idea. “It’s very early,” he said, “but we’re certainly talking to Gov. Christie’s office, to Governor-elect Cuomo’s office, to the MTA, to Ray LaHood and his people.”

It’s going to take a lot of talking to get this ambitious plan off the ground.

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Marc Shepherd November 18, 2010 - 12:12 pm

This is a terrific project in light of the fiscal realities. It is not the project I’d propose if government had the same commitment to transit as it has to roads and airports, but we must deal in practical realities.

I agree that it will be no easy matter to secure the $3 billion in federal money that would have gone to ARC. At this point, it is merely an idea, which would have to go through the same kinds of engineering and design studies that ARC did, before anyone signs up to pay for construction. Those studies often throw up additional obstacles that weren’t immediately apparent.

The idea is both better and worse than ARC: better, in that it provides a direct connection to east midtown; worse, in that commuters have to transfer at Secaucus. It is sure to be less expensive than ARC, because it doesn’t require tunneling to Herald Square and construction of a new underground six-track cavern station. Still, cost estimates need to be taken with caution. Remember, the initial estimate for ARC was a lot lower, too.

The big question is: even supposing all of today’s political stars come into alignment, is whether they will stay that way? The hurdle facing these mega-projects, is that they outlast the terms in office of the politicians who favor them. There won’t be a single inch of tunnel built before Bloomberg leaves office, and there is no assurance the next mayor would have the same priorities. Indeed, if history is any guide, he probably won’t.

Subutay Musluoglu November 18, 2010 - 12:44 pm

With all due respect to Ralph Braskett and Steve Lanset and their advocacy efforts regarding the proposed NYCT Flushing Line extension to Secaucus Station, they were not the first to float this idea. The idea dates to the early 1990s, when the PANYNJ and the MTA were taking a very cursory look at trans-Hudson capacity issues. It later appeared in graphic form with a brief description in the 1991 MTA publication “Needs & Opportunities 1992-2011” which was the MTA’s 20 year capital needs assessment prior to the release of the 1992-1996 Capital Program proposal. It was these early discussions that led to the initiation of the Access to the Region’s Core Study, which examined the Flushing Line extension as one of 137 possible alternatives for expanding trans-Hudson passenger transportation. Using a multitude of criteria, including ridership, capital costs, engineering feasbility, economic impacts, cost effectiveness, regional connectivity, relief to exisiting facilities (such as PSNY), the alternatives were whittled down, leaving several for further study. They were organized into groups, as Commuter Rail, Rapid Transit, and Transportation Systems Management (basically improving and enhancing the infrastrucutre already in place) alternatives. The Flushing Line extension did not make it into the Rapid Transit group, due to its inability to fulfill many of the objectives, most importantly it’s negligable impact on relief to PSNY. Although I am simplifying the screening process for the purpose of this post, it was from this effort that Alternatives G, P, and S were born, with P eventually giving way to the deep cavern ternminal under 34th Street. This “new” Flushing Line extension proposal is not new at all, if anything, we have come full circle back to where this all started.

Scott E November 18, 2010 - 8:51 pm

When the Seven-to-Secaucus was dismissed early on, was it considering an extension from Times Square or the new, extended, terminus on 11th Ave?

Douglas John Bowen November 18, 2010 - 1:26 pm

Ralph Braskett and Steve Lanset no doubt would be among the first to acknowledge that a No. 7 extension into New Jersey was not their sole creation. The two have simply remained among the more steadfast supporters of the proposal over the course of a decade, however, despite being virtually shunned by the likes of the Regional Plan Association, which (in this observer’s view) certainly is a project advocacy group, but isn’t automatically a transit advocacy group. Whatever its strengths — and RPA has them; longevity, for one–RPA isn’t renown for its openness to ideas from those it deems “amateurs” in transit and transportation.

John November 18, 2010 - 1:35 pm

While there’s no hurry on the part of the current administration in Washington to help New Jersey right now, if the project had significant support in New York, the odds of getting new federal funding would increase. And the MTA already does have interstate operating agreements with New Jersey, as part of Metro North’s Port Jervis line, so operating the No. 7 train to Secaucus (or in the future, to a major park-ride at the Meadowlands) wouldn’t be the first time the agency has had a footprint in the Garden State.

That still doesn’t mean the MTA should suddenly become the lead agency in pushing this ARC alternative — they’ve got way too many other issues to worry about in the five boroughs. But if other groups pushing the Hudson Yards project want to direct their efforts towards lobbying D.C., have at it (or rather, have at it as long as the money source coming from Washington is both new and unavailable to other city transportation projects, and not designed to turn the project into a Trans-Hudson Hoover vacuum cleaner that’s going to suck up all of the region’s current rail funding).

Joby November 18, 2010 - 2:01 pm

This would be the ultimate slap in the face to residents of Staten Island, North & South East Queens and parts of Brooklyn which have NO subway service.

If subway expansion is preferentially directed to residents of another state when proposals to extend subway service to these regions of the city have died a slow languishing death then why should the boroughs remain part of NYC? The only reason anyone is seriously considering this now is that it drives commuters to Bloombergs pet project – the Hudson Yards.

I’d have no problem supporting this type of a proposal if we had ANY subway service of any kind to St George, Staten Island and St Albans Queens, etc or the city had wisely built the extension of the LIRR from Atlantic Terminal to WTC when the Feds were willing to pay for it.

NJ doesn’t put any money “into the pot” for the MTA and most likely won’t and now the residents of the outer boroughs are being asked to fund train service to Secaucus NJ?

Edward November 18, 2010 - 2:08 pm

Agreed. And correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we already have a subway train that goes to NJ? You know, the PATH trains that having been taking riders from Midtown and Downtown to Jersey City, Hoboken and Newark since 1908.

I’d rather see NYC transit spend money on a real NYC subway, like to parts of Queens, B’klyn and Staten Island. Last I looked, these underserved locations were actually part of NYC, which falls under the pervue of NYC Transit.

Namer November 18, 2010 - 2:40 pm

Speaking of PATH, if the goal is to serve urban NJ, doesn’t it make more sense to expand the PATH system? Continue PATH north from Hoboken. I don’t see the need for going to Secaucus, since PATH already goes to Hoboken and Newark.

Berk32 November 18, 2010 - 2:44 pm

this is all about $$$$ – expanding the 7 seems to be by far the cheapest current alternative, considering the current work on the tunnel extension. If only it were only about what made the most sense…

Al D November 18, 2010 - 4:23 pm

In this particular circumstance, the argument goes, is that most of the Manhattan tunneling, what was to be the most expensive and controversial portion of ARC, is already done as part of the 7 extension. Certainly yes to your question, but, PATH in this instance does not have any “River Ready” terminal tunnels in Manhattan.

I would say, by the way that, this same argument can be made for extending the L to NJ. Its tunnel walls end at 9th Ave, the river is by 10th, and the L desperately needs added terminal capacity as the current configuration goes.

Berk32 November 18, 2010 - 2:46 pm

Nobody claimed NYC or the MTA would be footing the bill here… the whole point of this is to get federal money, along with some of the committed $ from PATH and NJ from the ARC project to cover most of the costs.

Edward November 18, 2010 - 2:53 pm

What about operating costs? Federal $$ wont cover that. Will NJ or the Port Authority help defray the costs of running trains and operating stations in New Jersey? Do we really want another 50,000 or so commuters riding the Flushing Line to Midtown when the PATH train and NJT already takes people to this area? There are hardly a lack of options for riders coming to NYC from Jersey. If NJ wants more options, they are free to pay for them (or not, as the current Gov has decreed).

At the end of the day, this is a dead issue anyway. Much like the North Shore Rail on Staten Island and the Nostrand Ave extension on the IRT, this is a pipe dream that planners love to get all worked up about. Some scribblings on notebook paper are cool to look at, but will never come to fruition in our lifetimes. Spend the damn money on cleaning up the subway stations we already have.

Joe Versaggi November 18, 2010 - 4:44 pm

Any public transit expansion requires additional operating subsidies. This is no different, and not a unique reason to oppose it. As far as another 50,000 passengers on the Flushing line goes, think about it – not really so: Jerseyites commuting to the GCT area are ALREADY there. They either got to Manhattan via NYPS or PABT, and took either the Shuttle or the #7. So we offload them from the over-capacity Lincoln Tunnel and PABT at Secaucus, or off an NJT train, removing congestion at NYPS AND Times Square stations. For New Yorkers who now opt for the #7, but could take the Shuttle, they could switch. Remember the Shuttle and the #7 each run about as often, but Shuttle trains are just 3 – 4 cars, while #7’s are 11 cars. So we know which the larger people hauler is.

Edward November 18, 2010 - 4:49 pm

So we drop 3 or 4 billion dollars to bring in commuters who are already coming into NYC via the other transit options you listed? Sorry, but I have a hard time working up sympathy for NJ residents who have the option of PATH, NJ Transit trains, NJT buses, franchise buses, two tunnels and a bridge when there are parts of NEW YORK CITY that don’t even have a subway train at all. If they have to stand on a train or get held up for 10 mins in a rail tunnel, well, join the club.

Berk32 November 18, 2010 - 5:08 pm

Edward you’re missing the whole point… the NJ Transit/Amtrak tunnel is at full capacity. By using the 7train extension, NJ now gets a direct connection to all of midtown Manhattan (which eases the burden on the MTA 1/2/3 and especially the S) – and you also ease the burden on NJ Transit to run into midtown, allowing Amtrak to run better (which is exactly what the federal government wants) – AND its not costing NYC much more, considering they’ve already spent a large chunk of change on the tunnel extension – the whole point is that federal $, Port Authority, and NJ would be paying for most of the new work… NOT NYC… If this was a project that would be putting the cost on NYA and/or the MTA, then obviously it would be a horrible idea. But that isn’t what’s being proposed. (and of course this would help justify the $ spent on the tunnel extension, but that’s a political argument for another day)

Berk32 November 18, 2010 - 5:10 pm

O – And you also theoretically reduce the # of NJ buses coming into port authority, opening up the Lincoln tunnel

John November 18, 2010 - 6:19 pm

A NJ extension of the 7 would also clear capacity in the two existing PATH tunnels, since the number of people transferring at Hoboken who are headed for midtown would drop dramatically, if they could save time by switching to the 7 at Secaucus. For anyone, say, in Staten Island looking for a future HBLR extension across the Goethals so they could connect up to PATH in Jersey City, that would be a major benefit, since there would now be extra available passenger space on PATH from there to 33rd Street and the WTC to justify such a connection.

Namer November 18, 2010 - 2:12 pm

Not enough is being said about the impact this will have on New Jersey. The primary purpose of this line would be to serve Hoboken, Weekhawken, Union City, and Jersey City; not the commuters at Secaucus Jct. Why should the MTA care about this project — the onus is all on New Jersey.

Bolwerk November 18, 2010 - 2:19 pm

We should all care about making it possible for people to commute to NYC without a car.

Edward November 18, 2010 - 2:39 pm

It is possible to commute to NYC from NJ without a car. PATH trains, NJ Transit commuter trains, express buses, Amtrak, ferries to Hoboken, Jersey City and Weekhawkin, Peter Pan and Coach USA buses…you get the idea. If there’s any money to be spent on new transit options (which there isn’t), how about opening up areas that need rail service and don’t have it? Like Staten Island, SW Brooklyn and NW Queens, all of which fall under the aegis of NEW YORK CITY Transit.

Edward November 18, 2010 - 2:40 pm

Sorry, Southeast Brooklyn and Northeast Queens…my compass is a bit off today.

Berk32 November 18, 2010 - 2:47 pm

PATH doesnt exactly cover a large amount of NJ……

Edward November 18, 2010 - 2:55 pm

But NJ Transit, Amtrak and the franchised express buses do.

Bolwerk November 18, 2010 - 3:47 pm

And they’re all inadequate at best for what they need to accomplish, which does no favors for the entire region – and even the northeast as a whole.

Edward November 18, 2010 - 3:54 pm

And extending one subway line from Manhattan to NJ will magically make travel to NJ and the entire northeast that much easier? Sorry, not biting. The tunnel project, for better or worse, is dead. Ain’t no bringing it back now. Spend the money elsewhere.

Al D November 18, 2010 - 4:16 pm

Even if NJ pays nothing to build it?

Bolwerk November 18, 2010 - 5:02 pm

For potentially hundreds of thousands of people, sure. I don’t see why this wouldn’t have a big effect on people who must take a bus to 42nd Street. Or regional trains from as far away as South Jersey, for that matter.

You may be right that it’s dead, but it’s rather spiteful to insist it be spent somewhere else if it’s this project or the money leaves the northeast entirely. I’d happily see it spent on all sorts of NYC projects, of course, but 7 to Secaucus is worthy despite NJ’s troglodyte governor.

Bolwerk November 18, 2010 - 3:46 pm

I agree. I wouldn’t discount those places, like much of NJ and Port Jervis line users, who have terrible rail service. If a fair funding formula can be agreed upon, something like this opens a lot of doors, including perhaps airport service.

What we should be doing is finding a way to eventually focus on all these problems, even if it’s done sequentially and with high-impact areas first.

Larry Littlefield November 18, 2010 - 2:18 pm

I’m only in favor if all the MTA expansions go forward to completion, including the Second Avenue subway to 125th (where it could serve as a relief for a service shutdown on the Lex as its signals age).

And New York doesn’t put up a penny, except for perhaps half the Port Authority money assigned to ARC.

And it costs $3 billion, not $6 billion. I’ve heard excuse after excuse for contractor gouging. It’s expensive to do work on a transit line in operation? Not in this case. It’s expensive to do work in Manhattan? Only for half a block in a low rise area in this case.

You have one interlocking, perhaps two if you want one near the NJ Portal, and one station at Secaucus. If those TBMs can do what is claimed, you’d have a few miles of straight track with no utilities in the way.

Alon Levy November 18, 2010 - 10:29 pm

The contractors in Jersey are just as bad as in New York. Have you seen the costs of the HBLR?

Douglas John Bowen November 18, 2010 - 2:19 pm

Ah, of course, parity issues. “Us” versus “them.” And while I’d be loathe to use superlatives like “ultimate slap in the face,” I certainly understand where folks like Joby are coming from, and acknowledge the issues of other places (such as Staten Island, and Mr. Kabak’s citing of Nostrand Avenue) can’t be dismissed.

But “us” versus “them” is what dooms all to many a rail project of any kind. It is, in part, what killed the malformed ARC project in the end (if one takes the Governor of New Jersey at his word), and it will kill any other, as well, unless enough parties can find agreement.

Even with the new fiscal reality, if I were a Staten Islander, I’d make my/our support for a No. 7 conditional on extending HBLRT to the fifth borough–if not on a one-for-one chronological parity, at least with some guarantee of some kind. Then I’d seek out potential allies, such as or even including those in New Jersey (here’s your first one, right here), to see if I could achieve critical mass of some kind. Only if I/we couldn’t achieve such a mass would the “need” arise to say “we’re agin’ the No. 7–period.” Doing so too early, if nothing else, decreases one’s leverage from the get-go.

Beyond that, it does behoove MTA, New York City, and New York State to make sure the Garden State kicks in for the ever-elusive “fair share” of the project (where did we hear that before?). Beyond that, Joby is justified to seek some kind of long-term Jersey commitment to the MTA should the project ever come to fruition (though–caution–many of us Jersey folk do contribute to the MTA already, as riders and as visiting taxpayers).

One way to aid that, though it’s not a panacea: Stop focusing on “commuters” as the buzzword. It’s toxic to any rail passenger project. Next time you read any message–from pro-rail advocate, anti-rail partisan, self-important political official–using the word “commuter,” substitute “those people” into the text. Hear it now? Hear the tone, the tinge, the vague negative vibe? Words matter. This writer can’t support a No. 7 for commuters, but he might back one for rail riders, be they Jerseyans or from the boroughs (even Staten Island!).

And that’s just a smattering of the obstacles facing this project, and slighting the oh-so-many things that could make such obstacles insurmountable.

Al D November 18, 2010 - 5:13 pm

A trade w NJ could be to extend the NEC to a few stops on the North Shore

Phil November 18, 2010 - 7:58 pm

I know engineering-wise it won’t be easy, but PATH should be extended over the 7, leaving the latter to go down the West Side and possibly loop around somewhere Downtown. PATH’s purpose (as evidenced by its name) is to traverse the Hudson and connect to transport in Manhattan. It would ease funding mechanisms, since there’s a prescribed formula for state input in PATH.

Alon Levy November 18, 2010 - 10:32 pm

Of course the real estate lobby likes this plan. It would get an even better deal on Hudson Yards, and the select few who could clear all the bribery permits to build TOD in Secaucus would make windfall profits.

cfnm videos November 26, 2010 - 4:19 pm

Good job on the pleasant piece which certainly everyone was happy with. All the details was fun but useful at the same time. Thanks for keeping us fascinated!


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