Home ARC Tunnel ARC Report Fallout: How many years until Gateway?

ARC Report Fallout: How many years until Gateway?

by Benjamin Kabak

In the aftermath of yesterday’s GAO report criticizing the cancellation of the ARC Tunnel, the political air has been rife with acrimony. Christie, of course, has been defending his decision while his political opponents have renewed their attacks. A former New Jersey Governor accused Christie of playing the state for a short-term gain, but none of these reactions are unexpected.

If we step back and take a look at the larger picture, though, things are a bit gloomy. NJ Spotlight offers up a very thorough overview of the problems plaguing trans-Hudson rail access and the prospects for the future. Mark Magyar devotes quite a few inches in his piece to the goings-on involving Amtrak’s proposed Gateway Tunnel. Although it would provide only around 65 percent the capacity of ARC, it seems to have the best future. However, with no real funding in place, Thomas Wright of the RPA said, “2022 is probably too ambitious a target date.”

Without the 7 extension and without ARC, Gateway is indeed our best (and possibly last) hope for improved trans-Hudson rail access in this generation, and that fact is not lost on those paying attention. In an editorial today, The Star-Ledger urged Christie to provide “more than his moral support” for Gateway. That’s an exhortation that runs both ways. Both New York and New Jersey will have to put their support behind Gateway, and politicians in New Jersey who have spent a few years pointing fingers over ARC will have to work together. The future of our region may depend upon it.

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Eric F April 11, 2012 - 1:00 pm

“A former New Jersey Governor accused Christie of playing the state for a short-term gain”.

That would be Codey. There is a hockey arena named the “Richard J Codey Arena” somewhere in the Oranges in NJ. So, there’s a guy who knows something about the value of a taxpayer dollar. If I may, I’d like to rip a few bucks out of your pocket, build something with the money and have it named after myself. You can use it, so long as proper homage is accorded me.


Jerrold April 12, 2012 - 12:37 am

But didn’t he mean a short-term POLITICAL gain?
Like becoming Romney’s running mate, and then running for President in 2016 if they lose, or in 2020 if they win.

The latter scenario could happen in two ways:
He might be Vice-President for eight years before running for President.
Or he might be Vice-President for four years and then they lose.
Which would NOT prevent him from running in 2020.
Look at how Mondale ran in 1984, after being out of office because Carter wasn’t re-elected.

By the way, personally I am NOT for Romney.
An imperfect incumbent does not mean that “anybody is better”, like some people say.

Al D April 12, 2012 - 9:39 am

Many people, especially the Republican leadership in office do not like Obama simply because he is black. And therein lies the hypocracy and suggests that their recent party leader, Bob Steele I think was his name, was no more than a ‘token’ if you will. How offensive and idiotic. The National Republican Party has really become a fringe party. Christie is a liberal by their standards.

Eric April 14, 2012 - 5:28 pm

1) Republicans hate blacks.
2) But some Republican politicians are black?
3) They must all be “tokens”.

Yeah, great argument you have there.

Justin Samuels April 11, 2012 - 1:05 pm

I’m not too optimistic gateway will happen. In part, there’s going to be a set amount of funding for public transportation. Nationally, projects have to compete with each other, and locally, projects have to compete with each other as well.

The Second Avenue Subway, as phase one nears completion, will take priority by far over anything like Gateway. Any major federal money for transportation coming to NY, and any state money will be spent on phases 2-4.

Genting, a company that’s developing Ozone Park into an entertainment center, wants improved transportation to that area. Depending on how the state wants to participate, they may want to redevelop the Rockaway Beach LIRR and use it to connect the gambling areas and airport with the LIRR mainline or the Queens Boulevard line. Both of those projects are by far more important to people who live in NY than making it easier to go back and forth between NY and NJ.

To tell you the truth, NJ commuters work in NY, and take money earned in NY back to a NJ jurisdiction, depriving NY of tax revenue. While this is America and people go where they want to, there is no reason NY should go out of its way to make it even easier for Jersey people to work in NY. The existing roads and public transportation are fine and if people don’t like it they are free to look for work in Jersey.

Eric F April 11, 2012 - 1:27 pm

“To tell you the truth, NJ commuters work in NY, and take money earned in NY back to a NJ jurisdiction, depriving NY of tax revenue.”

NJ residents pay New York State income tax on money earned in NY. NJ people pay sales tax on things they buy in NY. The companies the NJ people work for pay income and property taxes to NY. NJ people pay these taxes without using NY schools, senior citizen services, prisons and parks. Limiting NY businesses’ access to the NJ labor pool is not a very smart economic development strategy either.

“The existing roads and public transportation are fine and if people don’t like it they are free to look for work in Jersey.”

You may believe that NYers ability to access Newark Airport, NJ freight hubs and points south and west on the rail and road network is completely adequate, but I don’t think that’s a common view.

Jerrold April 11, 2012 - 5:02 pm

New Yorkers leave a hell of a lot of money at Atlantic City casinos.
OK, that is voluntary, unlike taxation.
But it STILL must be considered when people discuss whether New Jersey is (on the balance) a financial drain on New Yorkers, or if it’s the other way around.

Bolwerk April 12, 2012 - 12:13 am

It’s unlikely that either is true. Shitty bi-state policy-making harms New Yorkers disproportionately though, since most of the goods we consume need to come through PA-controlled bridges. Also, the preference for squeezing cars and buses into New York harms us more than it harms New Jersey, even though the higher costs harm New Jersey somewhat too.

But we’d both be better off without the us vs. them attitude.

Al D April 12, 2012 - 9:44 am

The existing roads are far from fine. The GSP is wall to wall pretty much from the Bergen tolls down to the Amboys. NJTpke can be a miserable crawl from Exit 13 to the GWB. And what about 80? And that’s naming just a few major roads. What about the countless others? And when it rains or snows, fuhgeddaboudit, the commute time increases by 50-150%.

Joe Steindam April 11, 2012 - 3:36 pm

I have no qualms with your comment prioritizing Second Avenue Subway for funds, but Genting has made it clear that they are unwilling to pay for anything more than the Super Express A (a la “Train to the Plane” from the 70’s or 80’s – before my time). They’re unwilling to go further, and despite our Governor making this a priority, I don’t see the need to get people to a casino at Aqueduct.

Improving transit to Southeastern Queens is certainly a great goal, but it shouldn’t be driven to benefit the Genting plan above the actual needs of the community. There are plenty of other good outerborough projects that can be done and if Genting isn’t willing to pay a fair share, then they shouldn’t be a priority.

Marc Shepherd April 11, 2012 - 1:26 pm

I think there’s an error in your post. You say that Gateway would have “only around 65 percent the capacity of ARC.” Actually, I think it would have about the same capacity as ARC. However, NJ Transit would get only 65 percent of what it would have received, with Amtrak getting proportionately more. That makes sense, because Gateway is an Amtrak project, while ARC was a NJT project.

I mean, both ARC and Gateway were (or are) 2-track tunnels, so it’s strange to say that the latter would have a third less capacity than the former. What’s different is the allocation of that capacity between the two agencies.

Eric F April 11, 2012 - 1:28 pm

I think Gateway would have a bit less utility than the existing configuration because the new tunnels would not access through tracks. Still, I would think that it has more utility than ARC because the new tunnels would be accessible by both NJT and Amtrak. Ideally, however, both projects would be built.

Marc Shepherd April 11, 2012 - 1:56 pm

ARC would not have accessed through tracks; it was going to dead-end in a new station “in Macy’s basement,” as the Gov. liked to put it. (An option to continue through to Grand Central was eliminated a long time ago.)

I believe Gateway is supposed in theory to support the possibility of through tracks later on, since it is part of the NEC’s high-speed rail strategy, which would eventually connect Washington and Boston.

I don’t think there was ever any realistic possibility that both would be built. Gateway was proposed only after ARC stalled. If two tracks underneath the Hudson were sufficient for a century, you’re not going to see six tracks in our lifetimes. A skeptic would say you aren’t even going to see four.

But Amtrak’s lack of access to the ARC tracks was one of the many flaws of that project. Even if Christie’s reasons for cancelling it were entirely political and self-serving, it could very well be that his decision will result in a better plan in the long run, which Gateway appears to be.

Eric F April 11, 2012 - 2:16 pm

Right, neither have through tracks. The difference is that Gateway would be accessible by both NJT and Amtrak.

I know that pining for ARC and Gateway seems fanciful. Ideally, if ARC was built first, its lack of Amtrak accessibility might make Gateway necessary anyway. I;d still like to see both built and have ARC confined to M&E and Bergen trains, with the remainder of NJT service funneled into Penn.

Bolwerk April 11, 2012 - 2:28 pm

No, Gateway would have access to through tracks, though I think that access would have been limited to the southern eastbound portal (used by LIRR?). See this diagram from a post here last February.

FYI, the track configuration out of Penn to LI is curious: WEWE I think, instead of WWEE (west: inbound, east: outbound).

Eric F April 11, 2012 - 3:15 pm

Ah thanks. That way it could also use any capacity available in Sunnyside for storage.

Joe Steindam April 11, 2012 - 3:30 pm

Doesn’t NJT already use Sunnyside for turning and storage?

Joe Steindam April 11, 2012 - 3:30 pm

Sorry, ignore the question, I know get your point.

John-2 April 11, 2012 - 1:48 pm

Gateway does have the ability to be a more direct benefit not just to New York, but to the New England and Middle Atlantic states because the project’s lead agency is Amtrak and not NJT. ARC as pushed would have only had marginal benefits for non-New Jersey residents (or those headed to Port Jervis on MNRR).

The Amtrak usage might buy Gateway more regional support, especially if there’s an improvement in speed/time on the Boston-Washington route that goes along with the project (which is why they probably do need to figure out some way to hook in the gateway tunnels with Penn Station’s East River tunnels).

Chris April 11, 2012 - 1:53 pm

Capacity is a non-issue at present. Whether you build ARC, Gateway, nothing, or even both, the number of trips across the Hudson is not going to change materially. The GAO report suggests that the number of trips is different by perhaps 1% in all those scenarios. So the future of the region doesn’t depend too much upon this at all: no matter what we do, in 20-30 years about the same number of people will commute daily from New Jersey to New York. These projects might make a big impact on the pleasantness of the future commuter experience, but aren’t fundamental game changers for local transit in the region.

Eric F April 11, 2012 - 2:20 pm

I’m not sure I buy that. The current track configurations result in limited NY accessibility for NJT trains and slow trip times. If you had ARC, one example of the benefit is permitting Raritan and Bergen trains to access NY directly without a transfer. You also speed up NEC trains. These factors would make a rail commute much easier for many NJ people which could induce demand for cross-Hudson train travel. On a much more minor level, NJ casinos sponsored something called ACES service to bring gamblers from MY to AC. That service had a lot of trouble and was canceled. One problem it had was that it was hard for it to get a free track and tunnel space during rush hour slots because of current capacity constraints.

Chris April 11, 2012 - 4:13 pm

Yes, ARC would induce train travel. But it would do this overwhelmingly by cannibalizing from existing trains, buses, cars, etc. Just look at the GAO’s report. So it wouldn’t have a big impact on actual destination & origin commuting patterns. People would live in the same places and work in the same places with ARC or without. Many of them would have had easier commutes with ARC, but this isn’t a particularly compelling story to tell. Speeding up a train seems mainly to benefit the people on it; why are taxpayers footing the bill for this?

I think there are opportunities for gamechanging transit in the region – better connectivity between Jersey and Long Island being a major one – but ARC by its own projections was not meeting that standard.

Boris April 12, 2012 - 2:52 am

Sure, it would cannibalize from buses and cars and reduce congestion on roads – roads that benefit only those who use them, even though they are (mainly) taxpayer funded. Rail is a subsidy for road users, because it reduces congestion and improves their “user experience.” You make it sound like it’s a bad thing!

Whether commuting patterns change is a matter of land use policy. If transit-oriented development is allowed near stations, more people will want to live there (to be closer to improved rail service). This is a policy pursued, for example, in Maryland. But if current sprawl-oriented zoning and land use laws remain, then indeed origin and destination sources could remain as well.

Bolwerk April 11, 2012 - 2:32 pm

That’s a crock. The current projections for the 2030s/2040s is that cross-Hudson ridership demand will be about 1/3 higher than it is now. ARC, for all its flaws, really was preparing for the next generation of commuting.

And, current demand already exceeds capacity.

Eric F April 11, 2012 - 3:17 pm

The idea that it’s even possible to overbuild infrastructure in this region is fanciful. Just about everything that can hold a person or freight is already chokingly crowded.

Chris April 11, 2012 - 4:00 pm

Just look at the projections in the recently released GAO report. It compares 2030 projected trans-Hudson trips in the “ARC built” vs. “no build (i.e. current infrastructure)” scenarios. The difference is 10,000 trips daily or ~5,000 commuters – a drop in the bucket of a commuter population of 500,000+. Clearly, if approximately the same number of people will cross the Hudson in both a build and no-build scenario, capacity is not currently a constraint and won’t be in 2030 either.

The reality is that ARC was not going to accommodate a “next generation of commuters” – it was just going to move future commuters from buses, cars, and other train service onto NJ Transit into Penn Station.

As far as demand exceeding capacity, I’m not even sure what that means. Granting the definition of capacity via loading guideline (questionable enough as I manage to get myself onto the “over-capacity” Lex every day), demand is a function of price not a quantity. If demand exceeds capacity, you have a pricing problem.

Bolwerk April 11, 2012 - 5:07 pm

I don’t know where the GAO is getting its projection, or what it’s based on, but the local commuter agencies are expecting a ~30% increase. The GAO number could be based on holding factors constant that NJT’s isn’t holding constant, which is of course a reasonable way to study current demand. It doesn’t mean that the real world demand won’t increase – and I can’t see a single reason to expect it won’t.

The reality is that ARC was not going to accommodate a “next generation of commuters” – it was just going to move future commuters from buses, cars, and other train service onto NJ Transit into Penn Station.

That by itself is already a splendid outcome. Buses have significantly higher (especially labor) overhead over trains, and there isn’t a more expensive option than storing and parking cars for transporting large numbers of people.

Granting the definition of capacity via loading guideline (questionable enough as I manage to get myself onto the “over-capacity” Lex every day), demand is a function of price not a quantity. If demand exceeds capacity, you have a pricing problem.

If you want to be an ideologue about pricing as a function from Eco 101, sure, we can base demand exclusively on price and ignore all other factors (needs, costs). It probably isn’t in the best interest of riders or society – or New Jersey’s employment rate – to increase transit prices and potentially drive more people to over-clogged, under-priced roads and highways though. Nevermind the environmental benefits of the rail mode.

Loading guidelines aren’t necessarily about safety, either. Much of what they have to do with is making it possible to board and alight reasonably quickly. After a point, high loads slow down a train and all the trains behind it. You likely run into this problem on the Lex frequently, whether you notice or not.

In the case of Hudson commuter rail, no more trains can fit through the tunnels, regardless of rider loads. We literally can’t grow the system more.

bob May 18, 2012 - 5:29 pm

ridership is going to grow unbelievably. that is why this project will get done. it has to. the public will be tired of standing in the aisles of 10 and 12 car double deck trains.

pea-jay April 11, 2012 - 3:49 pm

Well then there’s always the possibility of the unforeseen to speed things up and change public opinion. Imagine some year not too far into the future we wake up and find out one of the two tunnels is closed for a month for some emergency repair. Doesn’t matter how…could be due an unknown structural issue, a real nasty derailment or (less likely) terrorist attack. The point is that lost tunnel would be a real eye opener for NJ residents, making it painfully obvious that having more than two tubes connecting them with Manhattan might just be a good idea after all. Not saying any of this will happen but never under estimate the power of a galvanizing event.

It’s the same reason I believe the MTA won’t get serious about flood protection until there’s some major flood event.

Jerrold April 11, 2012 - 3:51 pm


WINS-AM all-news radio is saying this afternoon that “Phase 2” of the Second Avenue subway is going to begin now. Doesn’t that HAVE TO be a mistake? I WISH it were true. They also said something about 86th St. I wonder if they think that “Phase 2” means the construction of the stations. They will sure confuse the hell out of a lot of people.

Benjamin Kabak April 11, 2012 - 4:01 pm

Some new rounds of blasting are set to begin again on SAS. It’s not Phase 2 as we know it.

Jerrold April 11, 2012 - 4:27 pm

Thanks, Ben.
I knew that they were “crazy” when they said Phase 2 is starting.

AlexB April 11, 2012 - 3:53 pm

“…it would provide only around 65 percent the capacity of ARC.” I’ve seen that written before and I don’t think it’s accurate. What they mean is that it would provide 65% of the capacity that ARC would have provided FOR NJ TRANSIT. If you include Amtrak (which I don’t know why you wouldn’t), the capacity is doubled, right? Is that correct?

Jim April 11, 2012 - 4:56 pm

Gateway is not a well-defined concept. In the original Amtrak presentation, it was a double expansion of Penn Station, taking over the block to the south for an additional seven stub tracks (semi-autonomous NJT operation) as well as building Moynihan to the west, a new twin-bore tunnel across the Hudson and quad-tracking to Dock East including a new Portal bridge and a Secaucus bypass. This was a very ambitious project and correspondingly expensive. It may well be down-scoped as funding sources get identified.

One can envisage a very minimal version, where there is no change to Penn Station (perhaps the diagonal platform is pressed into passenger service), a single bore trans-Hudson tunnel, no Secaucus bypass and only three tracks between Swift and Dock East. This would still be labelled Gateway, perhaps Gateway Phase 1, but would be an order of magnitude cheaper than the vision Amtrak first presented.

The full scope version would essentially double trans-Hudson capacity, though NJT wouldn’t get to use all the new capacity. The minimal version would increase trans-Hudson capacity, but NJT might not get to use any of the increase.

What will get to be built will depend on lots of factors, one of which will be the amount of trust the Administration has in New Jersey.w

lawhawk April 12, 2012 - 10:15 am

Sauce for the goose. NJ Transit’s Executive Director says that Gov. Christie was right to kill ARC because the cost overruns would have hit NJ taxpayers hardest.

Also, note the costs associated with the project.

The agreed upon budget was $8.7 billion (we’ll work with this figure since that was a working number, and not the $5 billion that was originally floated before the project was green-lighted by Corzine).

Anything over that amount is an overage.

The Star Ledger notes that the project costs $9.8 billion (already $1.1 billion over).

The FTA says that the overruns would range from $9.78 billion up to $12.8 billion. That’s $3.73 billion in overruns to the high end. We’re already at the low end of the cost overruns, and we’re barely 10% into the project. The FTA said that cost containment was a huge problem for NJ Transit, which further backs the idea that the cost overruns would run to the high side even as the GAO was discounting the costs and saying that it wouldn’t go above $10 billion.

But back to the central point. When the head of the lead agency on the project that would have stood to benefit from completion says it was the right thing to cancel the project, you have to wonder about the financials on the project.

As for Gateway, it’s a better plan – high speed rail is a central component, and it would increase paid commuter transits across the Hudson for both NJ Transit and Amtrak (though NJ Transit wouldn’t get as many slots as with the ARC). However, with a tail track and access to Sunnyside, Gateway would provide a better logistical situation for NJ Transit as compared to ARC, which was constrained by existing infrastructure blocking tail track and Sunnyside access.

Benjamin Kabak April 12, 2012 - 10:21 am

When the head of the lead agency on the project that would have stood to benefit from completion says it was the right thing to cancel the project, you have to wonder about the financials on the project.

I’m not disagreeing with your main point, but it’s hardly coming from an objective source. Weinstein is a Christie appointee. He’s not going to say anything else, is he?

Alon Levy April 12, 2012 - 4:04 pm

Of course the concept of using the existing station is better. And of course NJT would get fewer slots out of it: this concept would be useful to other railroads, too, unlike ARC, whose sole use for any train that wants to go east of Penn is “get NJT out of the way.”

However, Gateway has one fundamental problem: it’s run by Amtrak. I wish I were kidding, but it features expensive crap like expanding the station by a block. Tunnels are cheap compared to new station caverns in expensive CBDs, even if those caverns aren’t as deep as ARC.


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