On Sunday evening, the Star Ledger has reported the upcoming announcement of the “Gateway Tunnel” a newly proposed Hudson River rail tunnel to NY Penn Station — just four months after Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC Tunnel project.
“Amtrak’s top executive and New Jersey’s two U.S. senators are expected to announce on Monday an alternative to the Hudson River commuter train tunnel that was terminated by Gov. Chris Christie in October, The Star-Ledger has learned.
The “Gateway” tunnel proposed by Amtrak would largely follow the same footprint as the canceled 9-mile Access to the Region’s Core tunnel from Secaucus to New York City, but connect to new tracks in an expanded New York Penn Station instead of dead-ending deep under West 34th Street. Detractors referred to ARC as the “tunnel to Macy’s basement” for its proximity to the landmark department store and supposed lack of connectivity to other transit hubs in Manhattan.”
The trans-hudson rail issue has completed its jump to the national discourse. In October, Chris Christie drew attention outside the state when he refused federal funding for ARC, prompting wide cheers from conservatives and an outcry
from NYC’s planning adovcates. Since then, some democrats have only gotten louder in advocating for federal transportation investments. In September, Obama called for a $50B national infrastructure bank
. In January, Schumer criticized Gov Christie’s ARC decision and advocated for increased investment in trans-hudson capacity
. Last week, Obama renewed his call for instrastructure investment in his State of the Union address. Finally, according to the Star Ledger, NJ Senators Lautenberg and Menendez are together announcing the Gateway project.
Meanwhile, the project has also taken renewed life on the local level. On Friday, the Daily News reported
that the city is spending up to $250K on a formal study of the 7-Train extension to Secaucus. According to the News, the Real Estate Board of New York, has expressed its support: “We need to come up with a replacement,” said Steven Spinola
, head of the Real Estate Board of New York. “It’s not going to happen unless the city continues to pursue it, and puts a little money in to help make it happen.” On Saturday, the Daily News followed up
with news that NJ Transit had hired its own consultant, Aecom, to formally study potential connections to the 7-Train service. All this, while NJ’s original ARC money is proposed
to be spent on auto infrastructure.
The Gateway Tunnel, estimated at $10B, is clearly designed to make-up for ARC’s perceived flaws. The track hook-up to the existing Penn Station (as opposed to the pedestrian connections planned for ARC) will serve as a complement to the Moynihan Station expansion plans (which will certainly help it engender additional support from NYC development agencies). The plan may be similar to what ARC’s environmental impact statement analyzed as Alternative S: constructing the tunnel to the existing Penn Station. Conceptual details of Gateway are not yet available.
The benefits of Gateway, it seems, may come at a cost. The ARC Tunnel would have increased NJTs hourly peak by 24 trains (from 20 to 44) while pushing Amtrak up just 1 (from 3 to 4). In comparison, Gateway promises NJT just 13 additional trains (for a total of 33), while promising Amtrak 8 trains (for a total of 11) — for a grand total of 44 trains per hour (at least four below ARC’s 48). Apparently, Amtrak’s lead on the project has shifted a greater share of the benefits toward the federal rail company. Despite the overall decrease, transit supporters should still throw their weight behind Gateway, which represents a permanent increase in trans-hudson infrastructure. Consider the current Hudson tunnels, which were originally constructed for inter-city travel, but are now primarily used for commuter trains. Furthermore, ven if they appear sub-optimal now, the operating agreements can certainly be bargained for later. Finally, Gateway’s role as an inter-city link will surely be tied to the fate of High Speed Rail in the Northeast corridor. As a result, the demand for its inter-city capacity could be stunted for decades.
While the flurry of news over the weekend is sure to excite advocates, the multiple reports are also distressing. The supporters of trans-hudson capacity have now split their efforts into two separate projects. The NY real estate developers have thrown their weight behind the mayor’s office and the 7-train plan. Meanwhile, federal politicians from NY and NJ are throwing their weight behind Amtrak and the Gateway Tunnel. The project we should support is that which will (a) produce the broadest coalition possible while (b) still meeting our core goals. From that perspective, I am inclined to think that the Gateway Tunnel Project is the better alternative. Supporters will need to build sufficient local and federal coalitiona to secure the right mix of federal and local funding.
And so it begins. . .