A few weeks after hearing once more about the Port Authority’s on-again, off-again plans to send the PATH train to New Jersey, a new story in The Wall Street Journal has me wondering about the impetus for such an extension. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants one thing while Newark is angling for another reason, but the cost and planned connection — to airtrain and not the airport itself — should raise more than a few eyebrows.
Ted Mann writes on the horse trading involved in the PATH extension:
In talks with United Airlines, the Christie representatives have suggested that they would direct the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to begin a long-contemplated extension of the PATH train to Newark’s airport rail station, providing a long-desired direct rail link with Lower Manhattan, these people said. In exchange, these people say Mr. Christie, via Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, has asked United to provide service to a slate of cities from Atlantic City—a small airport with a spotty track record of supporting commercial service. United is the dominant airline at the Newark airport, carrying about 70% of the passengers.
United has balked, the people said. And the Port Authority has sent mixed signals about whether it will include the PATH expansion, which could cost $1 billion or more depending on its length, in its new capital plan…
United might be loath to accept a deal for Newark improvements in exchange for flying from Atlantic City because the PATH expansion would be a greater benefit for passengers than for the airline, which is already flying nearly full aircraft out of Newark, said Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, a Colorado-based aviation consulting firm that has studied Atlantic City in the past. “Those airplanes out of Atlantic City probably won’t make money,” Mr. Boyd said. “Atlantic City’s airport is called Philadelphia. You go right across the Pine Barrens and you’re there.”
Since word of the Port Authority’s move to consider the extension leaked a few weeks ago, the back-and-forth has been confusing at best. An event planned for mid-September was canceled shortly after the original Crain’s article appeared, and Newark officials are pushing for the extension because it would benefit its residents seemingly more than anyone else. Still, this latest story raises a few questions.
Most importantly is the why of it all. Is Christie interested in a PATH extension because he wants to help out Jersey City and Newark (along with Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn) residents get to the airport quicker, easier and cheaper? Or is he trying to spend $1 billion of state money to convince United to fly into Atlantic City, for some reason? Does a $1 billion extension to the AirTrain terminal make sense without direct service to the airport terminals or would restructuring fares on New Jersey Transit between Newark-Penn Station and the EWR stop make more sense? According to Mann, a direct extension to the airport terminals would cost around $3.2 billion, more than three times the amount of the extension to the AirTrain. (And why does an extension to a preexisting station over a preexisting ROW cost $1 billion anyway?)
Maybe sending PATH to the airport is a good, worthwhile idea that can help ease travel to Newark; I’m not saying it isn’t. But a half-baked proposal that costs too much and is being put forward for purposes of a trade-off likely isn’t the right answer.