Fourth Transportation Mega Project in New York City Soon to Enter Construction Phase

ARC Tunnel

New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority soon to begin construction on Access to the Region’s Core

Days like this make you step back and realize just how far we’ve come. On Friday, New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will begin advertising bids for the first construction contracts for the Access to Region’s Core project. This rail tunnel will be the fourth major transit expansion project currently under construction in New York City, after the Long Island Railroad’s East Side Access project, the Second Avenue Subway‘s first phase, and the extension of the 7 subway line.

The $8.7 billion project, to open for service in 2017, will provide new tracks for commuter trains under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City and create a huge new 6-track station under 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan (pictured above). The first construction will occur in North Bergen, though tunneling will follow soon after in Manhattan. New Jersey assigned $130 million of its transit stimulus funds towards the project. Both NJ Transit and the Port Authority have been generous in their distribution of funds to the project so far, though it still needs financial assurance from the federal government – likely to come this year – to complete the program.

I have a number of concerns about the project, many of which I addressed a few months ago here. As currently designed, the project will make it difficult to expand the tunnels to the East Side of Manhattan; the new station will be far too deep in the ground, making commutes inconvenient; and Amtrak will not be able to use the tracks for through service because there won’t be a connection to the existing Penn Station.

But those qualms aside, the fact remains that we haven’t seen investment in transit like this – together, the projects total more than $20 billion – since the 1930s. We’re virtually doubling commuter rail capacity into Manhattan, we’re taking dramatic steps to relieve the overcrowded Lexington Avenue lines, and we’re opening up a whole new area for central business district development. New York is being provided the vital arteries that will ensure its continued health in the 21st century.

In the early 1990s, it would have been difficult to imagine such a large investment in Gotham’s transport infrastructure, especially after the repeated failures in getting these projects started back in the 1970s.

It is ironic, then, that these investments are being implemented now, just after the conclusion of the truly transit-hostile Bush Administration. We can thank the renewed interest in urban life than began fifteen years ago, New York’s dramatic comeback, and the resilience of the metropolitan area’s politicians in the face of policy that would have otherwise kept these projects in the fantasy bin.

It also tells us that we need to work harder during the Obama Administration to make sure than a transit-friendly government maintains and increases the support Washington has provided for public transportation in recent years. This applies to New York, of course, but also to all of the nation’s metropolitan areas, each of which need and should expect money for better transit.

With these projects underway, it’s time to get started on the next batch. I’m thinking Second Avenue Subway phases II, III, and IV, Metro-North West Side Access, Moynihan Station, Triborough RX, and maybe even an Atlantic Avenue subway.

ARC Tunnel Map

Images above: Access to the Region’s Core, from NJT and PANYNJ

17 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Andy

    Good analysis.

    But, I ask, how can the region pay for this all? The Feds aint going to cover the $9B for the project. And even Phase I of the SAS is only about 1/3 funded right now. Can the city/states even raise more debt now – in this environment – to pay for these?

  • AlexB

    Utica Ave subway in Brooklyn, 3rd Ave subway in the Bronx, and the super E express in Queens!!

    And why does no one ever talk about connecting the 4th Ave express in Brooklyn with the Staten Island Railroad? That would be genius…

  • Alex: sending the R to SI could work, but it has two major drawbacks: the Verrazano area isn’t anywhere near the densest and most developed parts of SI, which cluster near St. George, and the R will take a very long time to take people from SI to Manhattan. If the MTA has the money for it, it might as well extend the SIR under the harbor to a new terminal under Fulton Street.

  • Chris G

    The “Future Project” I’d most like to see hit is the MNRR West Side Access. That project alone would free up even more slots through the park avenue tunnel into GCT allowing expansion of all the other lines that wont get to Penn St.

    So a project that helps the Hudson line will also help the Harlem line, the New Haven line and even the east side LIRR in that not as many New Haven line trains would have to switch to the Hell Gate Bridge.

  • Adirondacker

    ..MNRR West Side Access. That project alone would free up even more slots through the park avenue tunnel into GCT allowing expansion of all the other lines that wont get to Penn St….

    But there’s no room for them in Penn. Station either. I can’t find it now but I’ve seen things along the lines of … once the East Side access is in service LIRR can give up some space for Metro North…. ARC will free up capacity too. I read someplace else …. start with weekend service on the Hudson line…. weekends when there isn’t as much traffic into Penn. Sta.
    I think, in the same place I read about weekend service, they want to build stations on the West Side, I seem to remember 57th, 86th and 125th. They could start building the stations now so that when they begin service they have stations to stop at besides Penn. They could also start service tomorrow, by letting Metro North customers get on the Empire service trains that stop along the line. Though people aren’t going to be pleased that they don’t get seats – the trains on the Empire corridor tend to be crowded.

    ARC is a good thing, it gets most of the 44 million passengers a year who use NJ Transit out of Penn Station.

  • AlexB

    I wouldn’t extend the R from 95th under the Verrazano, I would re-route the D or N train via a new tunnel between the 59th St station on the 4th Ave line and the St. George terminus on the SIR. Then, have the M train run 24 hours a day on either the West End or Sea Beach lines (depending on whether you re-route the N or D.

    With skip-stop service on the SIR, the 4th Ave Express, the Manhattan Bridge, and either the 6th Ave Express or the Broadway Express, you could have service from Tottenville to Midtown at 1 hour, all day long, regardless of traffic on the Staten Island Expressway or the Verrazano bridge. Service between St. George and midtown would be at around 30 minutes. The ferry from the South Ferry to St George takes almost 30 minutes, and you still have to catch a train.

    Granted, the tunnel from 59th to St. George would be a mile or so longer that going under the Narrows, but it would be the fastest and most effective way to service Staten Island. What’s an extra mile of tunnel? A billion? Peanuts.

  • I really hope that NJT can be pressured into going back to it’s 2007 design. The deep underground NJT 34th St Terminal is a terrible idea. It fails to provide alternative service if the original Penn Station tunnels are closed, fails to allow for new thru service between NJ and Long Island and upstate, and it fails to connect efficiently with the existing transit services at Penn Station.

  • anon

    “Alternative G” with through-running trains taking the Park Avenue tunnels to GCT and a new connecting tunnel to Penn Station, then the new tunnels, would have been best. It was rejected for shadowy reasons.

    Anything which doesn’t provide through-running between the at least two of Metro-North service territory, LIRR service territory, and NJT service territory is simply wasteful. But then, NJT and LIRR can’t seem to realize the savings from through-running from Long Island to New Jersey, and that could be done without digging any tunnels. (Even the necessary dual-mode AC/DC trains are pretty much off-the-shelf techology, used throughout Europe.)

  • Adirondacker

    You can get from Metro North Stations to Penn. Station today, you just have to buy a ticket to Newark. Yonkers and north and New Rochelle and north, one seat ride if you pick the right station. Running an empty LIRR train to Rahway or an empty NJ Transit train to Mineola during AM rush doesn’t save much over running the LIRR train to the West Side Yards or running the NJ Transit train to Sunnyside. And running an empty NJ Transit train from Rahway to Penn. Station during PM rush so it can pick up passengers to Mineola doesn’t save much over taking that train out of storage at the West Side yards. Rail cars get maintained on schedules defined by how many miles they have covered not by how many passengers they have carried. They use electricity whether they are empty or full. If anything I see through running as costing more than putting cars in the yard during the off hours compared to running them through. . . I’m sure NJ Transit, the LIRR and Metro North turn trains around when they can instead of sending them to the yard. The only thing you are saving by through running in that case is some time at the platform. Even then not much.

    Lets just say they do the maximum amount of through running. Instead of turning trains they run them through. So the Ronkonkama branch becomes the Ronkonkama-Trenton line and the Morristown Branch becomes the Morristown Port Jefferson line. The Hudson becomes becomes the Hudson Long Beach line. Marginal savings on operation and rarely if ever saves passengers a change in trains. If I’m in Morristown and I want to get to Jamaica it’s great. If I’m in Summit and I want to get to Floral Park I have to change trains. Instead of being limited to changing at Penn Station I can change at Jamaica or Penn Station but I still change trains. If I’m in Rahway and I want to get to Bethpage it’s great. If I’m in Elizabeth and I want to get to Island Park, I have to change trains. . . I don’t see a whole lot of value in through running. not the way commuting in metro NY is organized. If I’m at station on a line that doesn’t run through, I have to change trains.

    The capacity problems aren’t between New Jersey and Long Island or Long Island and Westchester or Westchester and NJ. They are between NJ, LI, Westchester and Manhattan. East Side Access and ARC relieve those problems.

    East Side Access solves getting LIRR passengers to the East Side problem. ARC solves the tunnel capacity problems. Getting NJ Transit and LIRR traffic out of Penn. Station frees up space so Metro North can run to Penn. Station. The only problem not solved is getting NJ passengers to the East SIde. Maybe someday when we have a few billion to spend on it.

    …and pick the right Metro North station and the right NJ Transit station you can get a one seat ride today….

  • AlexB

    Adirondacker – I think that you are proving the point of advocates of through running. If it is so easy to provide a through running train, why not do it? Newark and Jamaica are serious business centers in their own right. If the trains from Long Island are already going to Newark, it’s mind boggling that LIRR and NJT aren’t offering some sort of official service.

    Is there any reason Alternative “G” cannot be done in the future? As a relatively short tunnel, with no new stations, it doesn’t seem like ARC or ESA preclude connecting the existing tracks. It seems like that could potentially be done concurrently.

    Also, as a hypothetical question, if the ARC tracks aren’t connected to Penn Station, couldn’t it have been put anywhere? Perhaps the new station could have been located at 57th and 5th, or Times Square or Bryant Park? They could have also built a spur to connect to the Hudson Line and still ran trains to the existing Penn Station if they wanted…

  • No trains from Long Island go to Newark. The only connection between the MTA systems and the NJT is the West-of-Hudson Metro-North lines, which are integrated with the NJT but not with any other lines, including the East-of-Hudson Metro-North.

    Penn Station has plenty of room, given through-routing. It has 21 tracks; systems that through-route, like the RER, can handle the same capacity with 6 tracks. Terminating every train at the station increases dwell times so that far more tracks are needed to serve the same number of trains. Run the LIRR and NJT together like the RER and all capacity problems at Penn Station itself will disappear.

  • Adirondacker

    You can get from Metro North Stations to Penn. Station today, you just have to buy a ticket to Newark.

    I should have been clearer. You can get do that today… on Amtrak.

    like the RER, can handle the same capacity with 6 tracks.

    I rummaged around using Google to find things. The RER map looks much more like a subway map than either an LIRR map or a NJ Transit Map.

    600,000 passengers use Penn. Station everyday. Which RER station has a similar amount of passenger volumes? On the platforms, not someplace where 90 percent of the people on the system pass through without getting off the train.

    From the looks of the map even at the busy stations a small fraction of the people on the train get off while a small fraction of a trainload get on at any individual station. Unlike what happens on NJ Transit or the LIRR.

    Wave a magic wand and redesign the system so that there’s a two track tunnel at 65th Street for both NJ Transit from the west and the LIRR from the east, Half of the NJ Transit trains go down 8th Ave stopping at 59th, 42nd, 34th, Houston and the World Trade Center, Half the LIRR trains go down Second stopping at the same places, the other half of the trains cross Central Park with the NJ Transit trains going down Second and the LIRR going down 8th. At the World Trade Center, where there is an 8 track station like West 4th Street on the IND the LIRR trains go to Brooklyn and the NJ Transit trains go to Jersey City.. four platforms at each station might work.

    Unfortunately everybody who wants to go to Manhattan gets off at Penn. Station…..

  • Which RER station has a similar amount of passenger volumes?

    Chatelet-Les Halles has 500,000 daily passengers on the RER. This compares with 300,000 at Penn Station on the LIRR and NJT combined; the other 300,000 come from the subway, which is eight-tracked.

    The RER is a hybrid of transit and commuter rail, like BART or maybe the SEPTA. It began as a few disjointed commuter lines, which the RATP joined together with new subway connections through Paris. This was important because Paris has six different train stations, one for each direction. New York, too, can have its own RER if it through-runs the NJT and LIRR, and in the longer run connects Penn Station and Grand Central.

  • anon.

    “Running an empty LIRR train to Rahway or an empty NJ Transit train to Mineola during AM rush doesn’t save much”

    You miss the point. Not all trains run in the same direction — it is actually possible to get to New Jersey or Long Island from Manhattan in the AM. In fact, it happens nearly every *ten minutes*. There are a *lot* of reverse-peak trains scheduled — not a small number, a huge number.

    With through-running, alll *reverse-peak* services would be provided by trains from the “other side”. This eliminates a huge number of trains. Rather than having an LIRR train emptying out and going to the West Side Yards *while* an NJT train moves from Sunnyside Yard to Penn Station to load up, they would be the *same train*.

    Massive, massive savings.

  • I JUST HAVE ONE QUESTION……DID ANYONE HEAR ABOUT A TUNNEL BEING BUILT FOR THE PURPOSE OF GOING BACK AND FOURTH FROM NEW YORK TO ATLANTIC CITY ???

  • Antoine, there is a new service connecting Penn Station to AC. It actually uses two lines featured in the Monopoly board game, viz., the Pennsylvania RR and the Penn-Reading Seashore line (the “Short Line” in Monopoly).

    The service is subsidized by the casinos but like most pax railroad services, it is hardly publicized. If this economy continues downtown, look for the service to terminate within a year.

  • About time they put in new public transportation.

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