I’ve had a tough time getting a handle on the Real Estate Board of New York’s position on transit advocacy over the years. Time after time, we’ve seen how better transit has a positive impact on the value of real estate and the pace of development, but REBNY never seems to be out in front of key issues. For instance, they supported a station at 41st and 10th Ave. on the 7 line extension years too late, and their website devoted to the cause is no longer up and running. They have power but not necessarily the will.
Now, though, they seem to have emerged as the most vocal supporters for one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s odder proposals that will likely die when he leaves office at the end of the year. REBNY has become the champion for the plan to send the subways outside of New York City, under the Hudson River and to Secaucus. Jerry Gottesman, the chairman of Edison Properties, and Steve Spinola, the president of REBNY, made their case in the Daily News yesterday for a comprehensive study. Why stop at 34th St. and 11th Ave., they ask, and their answer has a twist.
Over the past three years, the mayor’s office, working with a bi-state multi-agency task force, has studied a plan to extend the No. 7 line through a new tunnel under the Hudson River, connecting it to the Lautenberg train station in Secaucus, New Jersey.There, it would become the transit connection of choice for many of the millions of New Jersey commuters each day, linking this key workforce seamlessly to the Hudson Yards, Bryant Park, Grand Central Station, Long Island City and Flushing — and giving Queens riders direct access to New Jersey as well.
…The extension of the No. 7 to Secaucus would create important ancillary benefits. With over 200 peak-hour buses full of riders travelling to Secaucus for a smooth transfer to the No. 7 Line, the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Ave. and West 42nd St. would be relieved of a significant portion of the demand that presently clogs that facility daily, increasing its operating efficiency and finally unburdening it enough to allow it to undergo a much needed renovation…
The public should know that there are two rail-tunnel proposals, both necessary. In addition to the No. 7 extension — which would address the needs of regional commuters and employers in both the city and New Jersey — there is the Gateway Tunnel, a keystone in Amtrak’s realization of a robust intercity rail system between Washington and Boston on its premier line, the Northeast Corridor. It would also provide redundancy in the event of failure of the existing 100-year-old tunnel to Penn Station. Having the two systems share a tunnel is not a new solution…By building one tunnel that can serve both the 7 train and Gateway, both projects will be able to advance when the first one proceeds, laying the foundation for future regional mobility and growth.
This is the first a bi-level tunnel similar to the one under the East River at 63rd St. has been proposed in the public discourse surrounding the 7 line extension, and the two real estate execs have requested a $2 million effort to fund a serious study. That would be on top of the $500,000 study the EDC unveiled in April that termed the extension “feasible.” I’m not sure this idea even goes that far.
It’s hard to imagine the money coming in for the Gateway Tunnel, let alone for a subway tube literally on top of that. The wisdom of such an approach from a practical standpoint should be question, and as Stephen Smith noted, this idea reeks of “insane overengineer.” But it’s still a Big Idea with some champions, and as I’ve noted in the past, that’s how Big Ideas become reality.
Still, this latest salvo in the ongoing battle to drum up some support for this extension doesn’t reach the fundamental question of need. New Yorkers won’t back a 7 line to Secaucus without some major contributions from the Garden State because it doesn’t benefit them, and already Staten Island politicians have threatened to block any such efforts with a commitment to improve transit connections to and from that isolated borough. There are areas in the city that could use better subway service and are primed for development should the transit connections arrive. Perhaps that — and not westward across the Hudson — is where REBNY should devote its energies.