Regional Advocates Propose Phased Approach to Gateway

MyCentralJersey.com reports that the Regional Rail Working Group (RRWG) has offered a Two-Phased Proposal for the Gateway Tunnel.

According to their website, the RRWG is a consortium of transit advocacy groups that cover the Tri-State area. The group’s primary goal is to convert the tri-state’s separate commuter rail systems into a single, integrated regional system. Back in the days of the ARC Tunnel, RRWG joined other advocacy groups in arguing that the trans-Hudson tunnel serve Moynihan/Penn Station.

Now that the Gateway Tunnel has been announced, the RRWG appears to be focusing on refining the plan to ensure its get built. On Saturday, Joe Clift, a member of the RRWG and former planning director for the Long Island Railroad, outlined plans for a phased construction of the Gateway Tunnel:

Two-Phase Proposal for the Gateway Tunnel

The current Gateway proposal calls for $13.5B in investments, including replacing the Portal Bridge with two new bridges across the Hackensack river and the construction of the new Penn Station South between 30th and 31st streets. Besides the very large pricetag, which is yet unfunded, the demolition required for Penn Station South has already inspired opposition. Earlier this week, DNAInfo reported that businesses on the block are already concerned about their future livelihood.

The RRWG is proposing a step-by-step approach that could lower the initial cost and significantly diminish resistance from Manhattan property owners. In the first phase, the plan proposes constructing only those infrastructure pieces necessary for expanding trans-hudson capacity. In a later, second phase, the more disruptive items of the project like Penn Station South would be constructed, unlocking the full capacity of the entire Gateway Tunnel project. (See the chart above.)

According to the report from MyCentralJersey.com, Clift explained the benefits of the the initial phase:

“It is a much more accomplishable project,” Clift said. “You would have a project that is more affordable (to start) because all the Manhattan property cost (for Penn Station South) goes away.”

Indeed, Cliff gave a very rough and very preliminary estimate of Phase 1 costs of only $6B – around half of Gateway’s current estimate.

The proposal joins a list advocated by the RRWG, both practical and ambitious, including linking Penn Station with Grand Central and connecting the PATH to the Lexington Avenue Line. The Group plans to present their plan to Amtrak, NJTransit and public officals once they have garnered support from other rail advocacy groups.

As for NJTransit, Executive Director Jim Weinstein told MyCentralJersey that NJT is continuing to explore both the Gateway Tunnel:

“I’ve spoken to Joe and it’s their project, so we’ll assume they call us,” Weinstein said. “It’s not like we’re in a foreign country. If Amtrak moves forward on this project, it will have benefits to us.

– and the 7-Train Extension:

“We’re supporting that. I’m working with New York City on that to address it,” Weinstein said.

Both Weinstein’s comments and the RRWG proposal make clear that both Gateway and the 7-Train extension remain very nascent proposals. There is still a great deal of time to work out the physical, financial and programmatic aspects of each plan.

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