Home PANYNJ On Senator Schumer, the Port Authority and ARC

On Senator Schumer, the Port Authority and ARC

by Benjamin Kabak

As the debate over the future of the Port Authority has roiled the region, local politicians have resisted putting forward calls for reform. Gov. Chris Christie a few weeks ago even warned of going “too far” with calls to overhaul the bi-state agency. That’s a laughable position coming from the Jersey side of the river, but it’s ultimately not one likely to win the day. Reform will come, one way or another, even if it takes a few years.

Yesterday, Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, chimed in on the issue and offered up his seven-point plan to reform Port Authority. The speech is available on Schumer’s website, and he ultimately called for the PA to get back to its roots. “The Port Authority, in an era of growth and imagination, was hewed, indivisibly, to its core mission: improving the Port District and thinking deeply about its long-term infrastructure needs,” Schumer said. “Over the past several decades, the fabric binding the Port Authority to that core mission has frayed, slowly unwinding as states saw an opportunity to use authority funds to cover budget shortfalls and finance pet projects. More frequently now than ever, the Port Authority has come to be seen as the proverbial honey pot, a cookie jar, a rainy day fund – whatever metaphor you prefer – for state projects outside the Port’s core mission.”

In the speech, Schumer offered an olive branch to the Port Authority. He would see through legislative changes the PA needs to effect reform if the agency asks. Here’s his seven-point plan:

First, the Port Authority should come back with a process for the nomination and confirmation of an Executive Director by the Board of Commissioners, not by the Governor of one state or the other. Second, the Port Authority should propose administrative changes vesting full managerial authority and responsibility of the entire Port Authority organization with the Executive Director. Third, the Port Authority should establish a permanent process to nominate individuals as Commissioners to the Port Authority who possess a comprehensive financial, engineering and planning background, and no conflicts of interest related to the Port Authority’s core mission. It should be clear that these commissioners have a fiduciary duty to the Port Authority

Fourth, the Port Authority should submit procedures that will allow the Port Authority to have a detailed annual operating budget and a multi-year financial plan that can be adopted after opportunities for public review and comment. Fifth, they should establish procedures that will allow the Port Authority’s capital budgeting to be guided by a long-term capital strategy that is regularly revised – I suggest at least annually. This plan should show how the Port is prioritizing and financing projects, and only then should it be adopted after opportunities for public review and comment.

Sixth, the members of the board should submit a plan to end spending on non-revenue generating state projects that are outside the core mission. Seventh, the Port Authority should end the acquisition of new non-revenue generating facilities and projects outside the boundaries of the Port District that are not core to the Port Authority’s central mission.

Much of Schumer’s speech is targeted toward Christie’s pet projects — the Atlantic City Airport plans come to mind. But Schumer also issued his own call for a Stewart Airport rail link, a long-standing desire that I dismissed as early as August of 2007. He also discusses the long-awaited Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel, a rail project that would create problems for the Triboro RX line. These are, Schumer argues, “just the kind of project that the early Port Authority leaders would embark upon.”

There was, however, one part of the speech I thought worth a second look. Although it’s been a while, Schumer spoke about the ARC Tunnel as well. He has not held back in his criticism of Christie’s controversial decision to cancel the tunnel and again spoke out against the move. “Diverting funds from the ARC tunnel for the Pulaski Skyway was the wrong move,” Schumer said. “The ARC tunnel was a high-priority and already fully funded. It was a bad idea to stop it and a worse idea to cannibalize it for projects that ought to have been funded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, perhaps even with some help from federal highway dollars. The Port Authority should have pressed forward on ARC. As I said then, ‘It was like eating our seed corn.'”

Originally, the Port Authority had pledged $3 billion to the ARC Tunnel, and New Jersey had to pick up the rest of the money that didn’t come from the feds. This gave Christie the power to cancel the project, and as soon he could, he gave it the axe. While I understand the funding structure, I never could comprehend the insular nature of Christie’s decision. ARC wasn’t just a one-state project. It had an affect on New Jersey and New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maryland, and the entire Northeast Corridor. Anyone riding the Acela, the Empire and Keystone Services, the Crescent, the Vermonter and everything in between would have enjoyed the benefits of ARC, but Christie himself made the decision to kill it.

Going forward, we don’t know what the Port Authority will become after Christie and Cuomo are gone. Maybe New York and New Jersey can move beyond tit-for-tat land deals and can restore some luster to the Port Authority. Hopefully, when we do, we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and think beyond the provincialism of state borders when major projects are considered, funded and seen through. That would be a strong lasting legacy for anyone looking to reform the Port Authority.

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JK April 29, 2014 - 6:54 am

These calls for reform that end with recommendations for funding of capital projects seem disingenuous. The Rudin center wants to revert back to the mission also but make sure that mission includes Moynihan station. Schumer wants strategically developed annually updated publicly voted on capital plans – as long as they include a freight tunnel and arc.

Bolwerk April 29, 2014 - 11:46 am

What the hell else do you do with PA money? It absolutely should be going into transportation-related capital projects and nothing else. Where I would diverge from Schumer on the point is here: the projects should be about moving people and freight, not about big fancy buildings.

Whatever the merit to the Calatrava PATH station, the PA should not be paying for it.

JK April 29, 2014 - 1:54 pm

I agree, PA money should be spent on transportation related projects. The question is who determines those projects and how. These calls for reform propose a comprehensive strategic capital planning process rooted in technical expertise with an element of public engagment and then – in the same statement – begin lobbying for each reformers agenda.

There is a lot to be said about the PATH Hub (and admittedly, little of it is good), but its hard to argue that its not transportation related….just like Moynihan, ARC, a train to Stewart, PATH to Newark, LGA Redevelopment, a freight tunnel….yadda yadda yadda.

AG April 29, 2014 - 6:29 pm

JK – I don’t think anyone argues with the PATH Hub in principle. The argument – correctly – is that WAY too much was sent on it. There is still no free transfer to the NYC subway there.
As an aside – if say half of that money was spent on that hub – that money could have been used toward that commuter rail tunnel from Atlantic Terminal to lower Manhattan that was talked about. That was more important than vanity looking stations. It would actually even increased the value of the WTC more than that fancy looking station does. Why? It would have made it easier for ppl on Long Island to get to Lower Manhattan. It also would accomplish what the PATH extension to Newark would – giving a one seat ride to JFK (or close to).

Bolwerk April 29, 2014 - 6:40 pm

Well, let’s start with an evaluation of what we have: a freight tunnel fits clearly into the PA’s mission. For better or for worse, the PA now is in control of PATH, Newark, JFK, LGA, the bridges, WTC, and the PA bus terminals. So those pretty much need to be treated as core duties, even if they aren’t part of the PA’s chartered mission. Beyond that, I don’t see anything wrong with ad hoc projects both states and the city all agree to.

To use ARC as an example: I’m not a big believer in the rail-gets-people-off-the-roads mantra, but ARC probably logically relieves other PA facilities listed above of some stress. So I can understand that reasoning, even if that is getting a bit far afield from the above. Sounds like all the major stakeholders were on board too.

Triborough RX is probably something it would be acceptable to expect them to make accommodations for, given Avi’s point that it can be a freight route too, but ultimately is an NYCTA improvement that NYCTA should logically be the lead agency on.

My criticism of Moynihan and the WTC Calatrava mess is they don’t actually move people. I don’t want to debate whether they should be done, but if they should be then I think someone else should do them. (PATH to Newark should be much cheaper than they propose. If it were, it would be easier to support. )

SEAN April 29, 2014 - 8:32 pm

I remember reading back in 2005 or so that the three rating agencies were concerned about the PA’s finances & yet things were looking good at that time despite the lingering shock of 9/11 & how the agencies weren’t tuned into the morggage rackets yet as they should have been. Amazing how they sort of got this one right.

Larry Littlefield April 29, 2014 - 7:49 am

The Port Authority is going to go bankrupt. It will continue to be raided until there is no money left. In fact, this may have already happened, as it is future money that has been raided, and that money may not materialize.

The Port Authority’s profits were inflated based a a shift from rail and transit to motor vehicles and air travel. That gave it the profit making entities that allowed it to keep the declining modes — Path and the bus terminal — alive.

Its finances are based on Vehicles Miles Traveled and air travel going up and up and up. But there are indications that is not going to happen. It might reverse.

What then? Regions will compete for the remaining air travel through subsidy. That’s why the seaport no longer makes money despite the boom in world trade.

SEAN April 29, 2014 - 8:48 pm

You realize of course the airlines receive subsidies, right? It’s called Esential Air Service or EAS agreements. You don’t see it in large markets yet, but who knows – once opperational costs reach unsistainible levels, the government might need to kick in aditional moneys to the airlines or airport opperators to keep them functioning.

The PA has it’s hands in so many things, it’s amazing they don’t come apart at the semes.

Chris C April 29, 2014 - 8:01 am

These proposals are a good start. It should not matter who proposed them but are they good and practical.

It is clear that the governance of the PA no longer passes muster and requires change. It may have been fine with it was first set up but not now. It is a MUST change and not a want to change issue.

The two Governors simply cannot rely on ‘well this is the way it has always been done’ and they need to either clearly articulate why they won’t accept these proposals or propose their own changes for reform.

But one change has not been proposed and that is the end of all political appointments to the staff of the PA at any level.

People should be appointed based on their expertise in issues such as finance, construction, planning and operations and not on which side of a river they live on or whose campaign they contributed to.

The staff code of conduct should also be looked at and not just that of the Commissioners.

Marc Shepherd April 29, 2014 - 8:01 am

I never could comprehend the insular nature of Christie’s decision. ARC wasn’t just a one-state project. It had an affect on New Jersey and New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maryland, and the entire Northeast Corridor. Anyone riding the Acela, the Empire and Keystone Services, the Crescent, the Vermonter and everything in between would have enjoyed the benefits of ARC, but Christie himself made the decision to kill it.</em

Well, if all of thoe states would benefit, why was NJ alone holding the bag if there were cost overruns? And, let's get this straight. There would be cost overruns. When was the last on-budget transit project in this region?

If it indeed had the benefits you claim, then the funding structure was all wrong. ARC was designed to be a New Jersey Transit project alone. It was deliberately designed so that Amtrak couldn’t use it. That was the fatal flaw.

It’s a pity that it got killed after so much time and money had already been invested, but in a way I am glad because it was such a poor design. The Gateway tunnel is probably decades away, but it is a better concept.

Eric F April 29, 2014 - 8:47 am

ARC is the epitome of a federal concern. Instead of using less than 1% of a $1 trillion stimulus slush fund to get this done, the money went to every little grasping interest group. That’s the lost opportunity, but go ahead and blame the fat guy with the R next to his name.

VLM April 29, 2014 - 8:54 am

Just to be clear, you’re the one who brought up both his weight and his party affiliate. So don’t play the victim card right away.

Second, he never even tried to work out a funding deal. Do you think the feds wouldn’t have helped? Everyone in Washington said they would have once the project was clearly over budget, but considering they never had a chance to spend the money, Christie, New Jersey, as as Ben rightly points out, the rest of the region never had a chance to find out.

Eric F April 29, 2014 - 9:20 am

I agree with that. He should have tried to get a better deal set up, though from what I saw telegraphed by the Feds, I don’t think what they were floating would have been sufficient. But yes, not the way I would have gone about it.

Bolwerk April 29, 2014 - 11:58 am

You appear to be the only openly partisan person here. You never complain about criticism of Democrats.

SEAN April 29, 2014 - 8:12 pm

Eric F was the same way on the Infrastructurist blog, perhaps even worse at times than he is here.

LLQBTT May 1, 2014 - 1:13 pm

The now less fat guy with the R next to his party affiliation was the one who canned the project. There are other ways to solve the points you raised than cancellation.

eo April 29, 2014 - 1:48 pm

I believe that the ARC will sorely be missed sooner than people expect. We can debate whether it was better than Gateway forever, but it was ready to go, construction had already started and would have provided a meaningful relief on the congestion across the Hudson. Yes, Amtrak was not going to be able to make use of it for the most part, but it would have diverted large number of NJTransit trains away from Penn giving Amtrak a more lot flexibility that exists now. A built ARC is hundred times better than a vague plan for Gateway that is at least 15 years away.

Additionally, why should Congress fund Gateway? No train from Texas ever gets held up under the Hudson. Why should a Congressman from Texas vote for it? The majority if not all money has to come from the region — NJ and NY, there is no way around it.

The other day I was on an NJTransit train that got out of the tunnel but was not allowed into the station until the Acela that was behind passed it causing 30 minute delay. The commuters were really unhappy about it — you know what, I have news for you: Amtrak owns the station and the tunnels, so if you are not willing to pay for it (or your governor is not willing to pay for it), then suck it up and consider yourself lucky that you did not have to take a ferry across the river.

Eric F April 29, 2014 - 3:34 pm

ARC is sorely missed NOW, forget about later. Definitely needed, but the state credit card is maxed out. I have no idea what NJ does with $30 billion per year budgets, but they have the highest level of taxation in the country and yet have no money for basic infrastructure and are sitting on 100 billion plus of unfunded pension liabilities.

Bolwerk April 29, 2014 - 6:55 pm

Do you have an orgasm every time you spout off something that’s easily shown to not be true? Their unfunded pension obligations are about half that, though admittedly somehow Christie(?) has been driving them upward.

And no state has a “maxed out” credit card, whatever you think that means. Maybe more debt would ding their credit rating and hike borrowing costs. That would probably very much depend on the project, and ARC is not a project that should be considered especially risky.

lawhawk May 1, 2014 - 2:06 pm

NJ does have unfunded pension liabilities, and it’s probably about $50 billion, give or take. Successive governors from Florio on down have reduced the state contributions, noting that the stock market was going gangbusters so the accumulated pension funds were growing. Now? The bubble has burst, and there are unfunded liabilities because the states weren’t kicking in their share for years at a time.

This year’s pension contribution may get delayed/eliminated because Christie’s budget projection is coming in $800 million short for his proposed budget. The cuts will come from somewhere, and that’s the first target.

Every state has an ability to raise revenue to cover items it deems fit. It’s called taxes. The GOP has made taxes an evil word, even though they fund critical functions of government (one of the reasons they see taxes as evil). To get around this, states and the feds will use revenue raisers, fees, and other terms to generate the revenues needed.

If the state needed more revenue to cover ARC, they could have done so with the taxes. Christie didn’t want to go that route, and canceled the project instead on the projected overruns that NJ would incur all while NY and the feds wouldn’t have to. The feds didn’t move to pick up the overruns or get NY to increase its share. That was the deathknell for the project, as flawed as it was.

The Gateway is a superior project in pretty much every way except for the fact that ARC was funded and underway. Gateway is years’ away from getting underway (except the launch box) because there’s no financing in place.

Bolwerk May 1, 2014 - 2:56 pm

I linked to how much the pensions are underfunded.

They almost certainly didn’t need to do anything other than borrow at that point. And it’s responsible borrowing because it ultimately boosts the economy and probably ends up paying for itself in a reasonable timeframe. Christie was lying, first by pretending their was an inherent problem with cost overruns and secondly by pretending he didn’t have any authority to rein the project in.

As for the GOP, you don’t need to be a Demon-krat to admit the obvious: it would burn the USA down if it could rule over the smoldering rubble.

AG April 29, 2014 - 6:39 pm

“Additionally, why should Congress fund Gateway? No train from Texas ever gets held up under the Hudson. Why should a Congressman from Texas vote for it?”

eo – What happens at Penn most certainly affects Amtrak trains in several states.
In any event – ALL states receive federal funding for things that will only benefit them. The NYC metro area has an outsize effect on the national economy. The tri-state area gives much more to the federal government than we receive in return. Furthermore the Boston-Washington megalopolis is the biggest economic region of the country. The Northeast Corridor is directly affected by what happens at Penn.
Therefore in a truly “fair” Congress that member who doesn’t want to fund it should also vote that no state (or city) should give more to federal coffers than it receives in return. They won’t do it though – because most of them would suffer. Frankly – they are hypocrites.

Bolwerk April 29, 2014 - 6:47 pm

They wouldn’t vote for it. They would vote for a bill containing an appropriation for it among thousands of others.

Alon Levy April 29, 2014 - 11:03 pm

Congress funds roads in Texas even though no New York car gets stuck on them.

SEAN April 30, 2014 - 2:11 pm


It’s interesting – when it comes to roads, a congress member in say Texas will vote yay on a bill that benefits other states, but apply it to transit & they become angry & vote ney since it will benefit other states besides Texas.

Tower18 April 30, 2014 - 7:14 pm

It’s all quid pro quo. Texas (for instance) votes yes on road funding for other states because Texas wants to ask for road funds in the future. Texas thinks they have little need for transit funding, so they’ll vote no on transit funding for other states.

The general red state opinion is that everything falls to states’ rights, except highway funding. Bring on the federal dollars for that.

Justin Samuels April 30, 2014 - 9:16 pm

Politics is give and take. What can New York’s reps give other reps from the rest of the nation that will convince them to vote to fund Gateway? It’s possible that this could happen, but NY’s reps will have to make a very compelling case for it.

A massive percentage of New York’s funds support social services for the poor. Perhaps if NY should concentrate on the quality of the jobs in NY, because if there were more better paying jobs funding to social services could be reduced and redeployed on transit.

AG April 30, 2014 - 9:36 pm

NY pays into the federal system with a greater imbalance than Texas and most other states. New Jersey even more so.
Sure NY spends on social services… That’s probably why Texas is so low on just about every single social indicator in quality of life. That is the case even though the have “explosive” job growth. That’s the reason they have to dangle cash to get companies to move there – $40 million just this week to Toyota to get them to relocate from California. Maybe if Texas had an educated population they wouldn’t have to import ppl and companies from other states.
NY subsidizes Texas – not the other way around. Gateway is more important than the vast majority of pork that other states like Texas get.

lop May 1, 2014 - 1:23 am

‘funding to social services could be reduced and redeployed on transit.’

Yea but that’s not where the funding would be redeployed to. Any budget surplus would mean it’s time to hike the pensions again. Limit yourself to NYC, reduce per capita police levels to what they have in LA and other large cities in the country and you’d save some two billion dollars annually. Modernize garbage collection and you’d save a few hundred million annually. Both seem easier than solving the problem of poverty.

Bolwerk May 1, 2014 - 9:03 am

That’s naive. Transit spending is discretionary spending. If New York’s social services (entitlement) spending were reduced, the resulting savings would be divvied up among every state, subject to the whims of whoever is in charge and probably with the usual bias toward red states with low public investment.

Alon Levy May 1, 2014 - 8:04 pm

Limit yourself to NYC, reduce per capita police levels to what they have in LA and other large cities in the country and you’d save some two billion dollars annually.

…and then you’d watch crime rates go back up again. LA is struggling to reduce crime with its underfunded police department.

AG May 1, 2014 - 9:25 pm

exactly – Bill Bratton stated that was the reason it took so long to get crime to come down in LA… In NY he had a much bigger force to work with.

Bolwerk May 2, 2014 - 12:05 am

About the only crime deterrent cops offer is their presence. Therefore, LA should have significantly more cops than NYC because LA is a significantly larger city geographically. LA might actually have the ideal number of cops…for New York. They have roughly 33/sq-mi of NYC land area. (LA has 21/sq-mi of LA land area.)

Under the current regime, New York has 113/sq-mi of land area. And they don’t have very much to do.

Eric F April 29, 2014 - 8:15 am

Right, so the PA should not be a “honey pot” in that it shouldn’t be used to divert funds to non-PA projects that don’t generate revenue for the PA . . . except it’s ok if the PA takes $3 billion in toll revenue for ARC, which is summarily turned over to NJ Transit. I think you need to acknowledge that contradiction.

When I hear this “reform” proposal I think “board of education”. The idea that the PA should be independent is the worst idea possible. Creating an agency that is unaccountable to local politicians would be a disaster. The one guy we all get to vote for is the governor and that is the guy that can actually be taken to task for poor decisions . . i.e., kind of what is happening now with the current feeding frenzy over the Biggest Scandal Ever. When the PA becomes the board of ed or the utility board, who is truly accountable? Who is running things? What agenda holds sway? No thank you.

Nathanael April 30, 2014 - 12:29 pm

The fundamental problem here is that the state borders are all wrong. Think about it. The Port Authority is necessary because of that arbitrary state border right in the middle of the New York metro area.

I doubt THIS will get fixed.

Eric F April 29, 2014 - 8:17 am

ARC was “fully funded”! Tell me again about East Side Access! Did anyone ride that this week to go directly to Grand Central. It’s been up and running for 6 years now, right?

Ryan April 29, 2014 - 9:03 am

I hate to say it, but I agree with Eric F.

Based on the massive, impressive, and never-ending disaster that East Side Access has turned out to be (and here’s your friendly reminder that with the latest schedule overrun, ESA is now trending towards a true completion date of “never”), I’m inclined to believe that we would be in exactly the same boat with ARC, facing similarly absurd and comically inept schedule failure.

Christie made the right call in cancelling it. Make no mistake, he got it right for the wrong reason, but he did get it right.

lawhawk April 29, 2014 - 10:47 am

Speaking of ESA, it looks like the completion date may be pushed back even further as construction is being delayed over the appearance of sinkholes in the Harold Interlocking vicinity. Some of them are due to improper or lack of backfilling, and no one knows how many may appear because the “policy” of backfilling only began in 2010.

One 9-foot sinkhole was likely caused by workers not backfilling a void created when they removed a boulder while digging a hole for a utility pole in 2008, MTA Capital Construction president Michael Horodniceanu said. The agency did not adopt a policy to do as much until 2010, he added, referring to removal of boulders while digging for utility poles.

“That should have been actually filled with grout, and it was not,” Horodniceanu said.

Other sinkholes have formed at the Harold Interlocking near smaller tunneling work for East Side Access, Horodniceanu said. The MTA is closely inspecting all so-called “micro-tunneling” work for evidence of other potential collapses.

The MTA has also hired an independent geotechnical engineering firm to investigate subsurface conditions and “ensure total objectivity,” Horodniceanu said.

g April 29, 2014 - 11:57 am

ARC wouldn’t have had to deal with the numerous complexities that exist on the Queens side of the ESA…which are the major sources of delay and cost overrun IIRC. It would have gone over budget but not as drastically and the Feds clearly indicated they would have come to the table and negotiate a deal that better protected NJ.

I don’t find the potential downsides to be great enough to deny NJ residents more desperately needed NYC commute capacity for the foreseeable future. The PA bus terminal is over capacity, NJT is maxed out, and PATH will probably be nearing capacity before the end of the decade.

Bolwerk April 29, 2014 - 12:03 pm

I think Schumer probably misspoke. What he probably meant was the truth: ARC was fully financed, not fully funded. There was a plan in place to pay for ARC. Money was not yet in place, however.

As for canceling it, it seems like an indictment of Christie’s leadership skills that he couldn’t get it done within the confines of the financial plan in place. A competent governor might have managed.

johndmuller April 29, 2014 - 8:54 pm

It is fair to say that the ARC project would have in all likelihood overrun its budget, perhaps even comparably to ESA; as structured, NJ would seem to have been on the hook. Even if we believe that Uncle S, the PA or someone would have picked up a good deal of that overrun despite the financing agreement, NJ would still most likely have been stuck with at least some of it, including a disproportionate share of the egg-on-the-face. That would have been Christie’s up-side, getting stuck with only some of the overrun. The project, after all wasn’t even his, and the first trains would probably be running for his successors, not for him.

Meanwhile, the gas tax coffers could not keep up with highway expenses, but a Republican governor raising taxes is not too politically correct (and raising the gas tax in NJ is especially bad – a kind of state pride issue).

Makes a guy wonder, “Where is there some money lying around?”

With Republican politics being what they were at the time, Christie took the obvious way out – score a lot of points with the Tea Party types by cancelling a big project (the fact that it hurts his own constituents can perversely be seen as an additional benefit as it can be spun as underscoring the degree of his ideological purity). Bingo, fresh supply of money, and good street cred with the Tea Party.

I would like to think that he regretted that his cancelling of ARC stood to greatly inconvenience his own state’s commuters, but apparently it did not bother him enough that he would try to work out a compromise.

As to the merits of cancelling the project, no doubt there would have been some overruns, and maybe a great deal of them; no doubt there would have been some design flaws, and maybe a lot of them; but there would have been at least some progress, and we’d be counting down the days/months/years and complaining about schedule overruns instead.

Ryan April 30, 2014 - 11:23 am

The logic sounds nice, at least, but the fact of the matter is some fraction or portion or section of a tunnel is useful to exactly nobody.

Despite all of the supposed progress on ESA, up to and including real infrastructure that can be observed, as of today we are still making negative progress on that project. I can say that because the amount of money and time we have gone over-budget on ESA right now has eclipsed the initial project’s schedule and cost (meaning that we are somehow further away from completion today than we were when we started), and the rate at which these schedule slips happen is now faster than the flow of time. In other words, we can’t even use the track record on ESA to predict when it will actually be completed because any projection model you can think to use will return an infinite number based on the information that is available to us.

And, again, because even 90% of an ESA or an ARC is useless, the only difference between the New York City metro area of today and the one in an alternate universe where ARC wasn’t canceled is that we have two massive infrastructure projects with completion dates of “nobody knows” at best and “never” at worst.

I’ve called for ESA to be cancelled before, and that’s still the position I hold, because from where I’m sitting right now it looks for all the world like nobody actually knows what the hell they’re doing over there, and that’s not a position I want any part of when it comes to megalithic tunneling projects. ESA should have been canceled just like ARC was, and at the very least, ESA ought to be indefinitely suspended pending criminal investigations and some solid answers as to how, exactly, we arrived at this point where ESA is pointed firmly down a trend line suggesting the project will never be completed.

The three possibilities are criminal malfeasance, criminal incompetence, or criminal negligence and no matter which it turns out to be, we should stop the madness and wait until we have answers to the very legitimate questions of “what went wrong here, when, how, and why?”

Meanwhile, calling for any new tunneling projects is frankly an invitation to start shoveling money into a new and different dumpster fire until we have those answers. Even the most ardent believers in the philosophy that the rest of the world’s practices and experiences have no bearing on American infrastructure projects has to look at the state of every single tunneling project we’ve undertaken in the past two decades and realize that something has gone terribly wrong here – we’ve sailed well past the point where “that’s just what it costs to dig tunnels in America” and are now in the strange and uncharted waters of “we don’t apparently know how to dig tunnels in America.”

Bolwerk April 30, 2014 - 12:16 pm

That’s kind of hyperbolic. It appears the problems have little to do with the tunnels, and everything to do with the cavernous stations.

Really, the solution is simple: there should be one tunneling project between Queens and New Jersey with accommodations for a stop at Grand Central and switching to Penn. New Jersey Transit and LIRR trains can learn to get along enough terminate in each other’s respective territories.

SEAN April 30, 2014 - 2:27 pm

Besides – if ESA is stopped, then what – do you think it would ever get started again? Better to get this thing done & into revenue service concurrently with all nessessary investigations. I could go on, but this would be longer than one of Mikes detailed posts.

Bolwerk April 30, 2014 - 2:48 pm

I don’t think it will be stopped, so it’s a moot point. At a sane cost, it’s a smart project. The way they are doing it might fundamentally not be sane though. They should never have built a terminal under GCT.

If it is stopped, maybe better bang:buck ratio would be achieved by through service still. I have no idea. I hope it’s not engineered to preclude that kind of expansion, in any case.

SEAN April 30, 2014 - 4:06 pm

They should never have built a terminal under GCT.

Onit’s face I agree with you, but since we are talking about LI here – the kings of doing things there own way, aren’t they getting exactly what they want? Or am I just being a little vendictive here.

BruceNY April 30, 2014 - 9:45 pm

I agree–I never understood why they didn’t just connect to the lower level platforms at GCT. I just don’t buy the excuse that the grade would have been too steep. I’m not an expert on that, but it seems that if an F train can make the climb from Lexington/63rd to 57th/6th then why can’t an LIRR train make it from 63rd St. all the way down to Grand Central?
Were there other ‘reasons’ that the lower level at GCT could not work?

Nathanael May 1, 2014 - 8:20 am

Metro-North / LIRR turf wars. Metro-North operations didn’t want to deal with LIRR and vice versa. This is actually kind of understandable, but geez.

Clarke May 1, 2014 - 12:05 pm

LIRR and Metro North won’t play well together? Oh well, should have lumped them together as MTA Commuter Rail, eliminated all duplicate job functions, and VOILA! LIRR doesn’t end up in some terminal just closer to the Earth’s core than the streets above.

Nathanael May 12, 2014 - 1:23 pm

Yes, this was actually proposed (Google “MTA Rail”), but the LIRR unions, LIRR management, Metro-North unions, and Metro-North management fought against it and so it didn’t happen.

lop May 1, 2014 - 1:29 am

> I hope it’s not engineered to preclude that kind of expansion, in any case.

Like encasing a TBM in concrete after it was finished?

Larry Greenfield April 29, 2014 - 9:04 am

While these are necessary steps to fix the broken PA, I see nothing in the proposal on how to integrate the PA with the MTA for infrastructure planning and funding purposes. The region needs many transportation infrastructure improvements and yet there is an uncoordinated effort in spending for them.

Just look at the money spent for the WTC PATH station, the lack of any direct city-to-airport rail connections, the condition of Penn Station or the PA Bus Terminal and you see ineffective planning and spending process.

Eric F April 29, 2014 - 9:29 am

The PA is an instrumentality of the states. I would take the view that the instrumentality could actually be a funding recipient not a funding source. It’s too bad that NY and NJ can’t each throw in a billion here or there to fund replacements and additions to some of the decrepit facilities that the PA runs.

Avi April 29, 2014 - 12:34 pm

He also discusses the long-awaited Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel, a rail project that would create problems for the Triboro RX line.

You’re falling into the same trap that Christie and Cuomo have fallen into. Cross harbor freight is a project that fits into PA’s mandate. Triboro RX is strictly a NYC project and belongs to the MTA. PA should make the case for Cross Harbor Freight. If MTA thinks Triboro RX is more important they can lobby for that and see which one wins out, but the PA should not be concerned with other uses of tracks on the NYC side outside of their mandate.

Benjamin Kabak April 29, 2014 - 12:38 pm

I’m not really falling into any trap because I’m not passing judgment on either project. It’s simply a true statement that the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel would complicate Triboro RX. That doesn’t mean the PA should cease thinking about it.

eo April 29, 2014 - 2:05 pm

Everything I have seen indicates that there is not enough freight traffic to pay for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel. Long Island just is not big enough to demand enough freight. Assuming that you need at least 1 train per hour to make the tunnel worth it, and assuming one tube only, each train holding 80 cars of doublestacks makes for 12 trains each way with 160 containers for 1,920 containers going to Long Island each day. I doubt there is demand for even quarter of that and a tunnel with 1 train per hour is really light use for a tunnel. You will need to prohibit all trucks on all bridges to Long Island and you still will not get to 2,000 containers of cargo a day. Even if one adds other cargo such as lumber and stone, I still don’t see enough demand there. I think the PA not thinking of the Cross Harbor Tunnel is smart of its directors.

John-2 April 29, 2014 - 3:28 pm

As Jerrold Nadler touted it over a decade ago, Cross Harbor also had the potential to take freight west, from a revived Brooklyn waterfront, based on the Brooklyn side of the harbor being deeper and able to handle the freighters being built to navigate the wider Panama Canal. The tunnel also would have pass-through potential to run freight from the mid-Atlantic region to New England via Hell’s Gate, without the current required detour through Albany. So the value wouldn’t simply be in bringing freight traffic from the mid-Atlantic area to Long Island.

As for ARC overall, Christie was probably right to cancel it, but for the wrong reasons. The station’s lack of pass through capability and limited platform space compared with Grand Central Terminal meant only X amount of trains could be handled there before some had to go back out to New Jersey for mid-day storage, and the depth of the station compared to GCT or NYP meant access to and from the trains was going to take longer — something East Side Access at Grand Central will have to deal with eventually. Where he was wrong was in the vintage Robert Moses mindset that the saved state funds should immediately be redirected towards highways.

It would have been far better to set aside some of the money to work towards the state’s contribution to Amtrak’s Gateway option (which, if connected to Penn Station’s East River tunnels, would increase the chances of support from senators and representatives from other Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, since it could be used by trains passing through their areas, as opposed to ARC, which would see little direct traffic outside of NJT service).

AG April 29, 2014 - 6:47 pm

Yes the pass through could be a selling point for the freight tunnel. That could make it palatable..

However – the reason most the ports were moved from Manhattan and Brooklyn to New Jersey (and less to to Staten Island) still exist. Container ports require HUGE amounts of space. The price of land in NYC is too high to take up that much space.

If it can be proven that the pass through can work – it should be done. Taking the stress of so many trucks off the road will also help in maintenance costs of PA bridges and tunnels in the long run. That and air quality which is important.

Nathanael April 30, 2014 - 12:43 pm

The reason the ports were moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey related to the lack of rail and road access to the rest of the country in Brooklyn, not “the price of land”, which was still pretty cheap in waterfront Brooklyn at the time.

“If it can be proven that the pass through can work – it should be done.” The last study was pretty sure it would work. There are some questions of rail capacity on the Northeast Corridor through the Bronx and Connecticut, but it should work.

The practical alternatives to the Cross Harbor Freight tunnel for New England traffic involve restoring the “Walkway Over the Hudson” to rail freight traffic, which seems extremely unlikely now — or building another bridge somewhere in Westchester, which seems even less plausible NIMBYs.

AG April 30, 2014 - 9:40 pm

No – I was saying the reason it wouldn’t move back to the NY side of the harbor.. You are correct access yes – but it was also the space that container ports need. So even if the Cross Harbor tunnel is done (which I think it could/should) – the major port functions won’t because for the space needed – the waterfront land in NYC is at this time too valuable.

Nathanael May 1, 2014 - 8:22 am

“No – I was saying the reason it wouldn’t move back to the NY side of the harbor.. ”

Oh, sorry for the confusion. You’re totally right, *now* the port won’t move back because of land prices. The purpose of the cross-harbor tunnel is *now* largely to connect New England to those New Jersey ports.

Alon Levy May 1, 2014 - 8:06 pm

I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but, srsly, electric district in New England and Long Island, engine change at the outer ends of NJT.

Nathanael May 12, 2014 - 1:24 pm

Fine, but you still need the cross-harbor freight tunnel because of clearances; for efficient freight running you really want to run doublestacks.

AG May 1, 2014 - 9:18 pm


Eric F April 29, 2014 - 3:30 pm

There’s no warehousing capacity to support a freight complex. Modern warehouses take up a huge amount of space, space that is effectively unavailable in Brooklyn, Queens and most of Nassau at any price. If you live in NYC, your warehouses are in Central Jersey and the Lehigh Valley. NYC and points east need better truck routes.

Bolwerk April 29, 2014 - 6:11 pm

That was a specious claim last time you claimed it too. To say the least, Maspeth would be acting more as an intermodal distribution node than a distribution center. Careful scheduling and just-in-time transfers can minimize the need for warehousing.

Nathanael April 30, 2014 - 12:35 pm

You haven’t been looking. There’s far more than enough freight traffic to pay for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel. Did you even read the original studies?

The traffic which will be on the Cross Harbor Freight route is NOT just to Long Island. It’s also to the Bronx, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

It’s a much shorter route than via Selkirk, near Albany. The rail modeshare east of the Hudson in New England is significantly lower than that in the entire rest of the country. This is *entirely* because of the lack of freight crossings of the Hudson south of Albany.

Anon April 29, 2014 - 9:36 pm

Big story b…. Trains may be made by “USA” manufacturer soon.

“au revoir”

Alon Levy April 29, 2014 - 11:05 pm

Yes, GE may be buying Alstom. This does not make Alstom trains American, any more than the AdTranz trains that are now owned by Bombardier are Canadian.

Bolwerk April 30, 2014 - 9:27 am

Well, it does open the door to constructing reasonably modern trains in the USA under Congress’s silly “Made in America” rules.

(AFAIK, those are still in place.)

Justin Samuels April 30, 2014 - 9:12 pm

GE is only buying Alstom’s energy assets, such as power plant equipment. Alstom’s Transportation business will remain independent.

Jonathan English April 30, 2014 - 2:12 pm

GE is planning to buy Alstom’s energy business so that Alstom can focus on its rail business, which will remain independent.

Spendmor Wastemor April 30, 2014 - 3:49 pm

“Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel, a rail project that would create problems for the Triboro RX line.”

Does one negate the other, or does it mean a juggling act/ROW widening is required to have both?
NYCs density of truck traffic is sure looks like enough that some form of rail freight could cut time and cost, at least if operating finances are not made hostage to the city’s inflated construction costs. Heck, even something as klunky as “drive da whole rig on this here well car and we’ll pull ya past all da traffic”.

Nathanael May 1, 2014 - 8:33 am

OK, here’s my scheme for TriboroRX / Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel integration. Quad-track the entire route — 2 freight 2 passenger. I think there’s room. Looks like most of it used to be quad-tracked anyway.

Alternative proposal: run it FRA-regulated, like Metro-North. Quad-track whatever you can, triple-track whatever you can, and double-track the rest. Make sure there’s a separate passenger terminal so the “Tunnel traffic” separates from the “passenger traffic” at the south end.

Alon Levy May 1, 2014 - 8:07 pm

There are a few narrows that are only double-track; Cap’n Transit has the list on his blog.

There’s also the Hell Gate Bridge issue, but then freight can at least temporarily be moved to the Amtrak tracks.


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