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Feds Push Forward Projects in New York and Salt Lake; Bay Area Abandons Dumbarton Rail for Warm Springs

Environmental Statement for Access to the Region’s Core is Approved

The Access to the Region’s Core Tunnel, which will provide a new rail connection between New Jersey and New York, is a step closer to reality after federal authorities approved the $9 billion project’s environmental assessment. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and New Jersey, which are planning the project together, hope to receive $3 billion from the federal government in addition to the billions that the Authority and the Garden State have already allocated. The stimulus bill could provide the money to start construction on the project this summer. This would allow for completion in… 2017. The project is expected to create 40,000 to 50,000 jobs over the next eight years.

This is a necessary project for New York and its western suburbs, whose sole commuter rail connection is currently through a two-track 100-year-old tunnel that is woefully overcrowded. Those Hudson River tubes are shared with Amtrak. But, as we wrote two months ago on this blog, the project is fraught with a number of problems. Not only does it fail to provide New Jersey commuters direct access to the East Side of Manhattan and instead will deposit them in an incredibly deep station hundreds of feet below West 34th Street, but it will not connect to the existing Penn Station on the Manhattan side of the tunnel, meaning that through-running Amtrak trains will not be able to use the tracks. This will be a problem in the future when the existing tunnels have to be renovated. But the approval of the environmental statement virtually ensures that the project will be built as-designed, so no more complaining allowed.

Mid-Jordan LRT in Salt Lake City Gets Federal Funding

The Federal Transit Administration has committed to a full-funding grant agreement with the the Utah Transit Authority for the funding of the Mid-Jordan TRAX LRT line. The feds will provide $428.3 million for the project. Construction officially began last year after the FTA announced a Record of Decision and Letter of No Prejudice on behalf of the project, but the 10.6-mile line will not open for service until 2011. The line will serve the municipalities of Murray, Midvale, West Jordan, and South Jordan, running southwest from downtown Salt Lake.

BART Warm Springs Extension is Funded

The Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has approved the transfer of $91 million in toll funds to the BART Warm Springs extension. This 5.4-mile project will bring BART heavy rail services south from the existing Fremont terminus to Warm Springs, with a possible future station to be constructed at Irvington, about halfway between the two other cities. The project is massively expensive for such a short line in the suburbs, at $890 million, because about a quarter of the route will be in a subway under Fremont Central Park. Because of the line’s high cost and limited likely ridership, it would have failed to receive federal funding under the FTA’s New Start grant process, so the line will not receive any federal money. Construction will begin this year, and service is expected to begin in mid-2014. This extension will be necessary for the ultimate implementation of BART service to Silicon Valley, which will extend from Warm Springs to Santa Clara, via Milpitas and Downtown San Jose.

Lost in the process? Any immediate possibility of having commuter rail built across the Dumbarton Bridge from the Union City BART Station in the East Bay to Millbrae BART in the West Bay. This $600 million project would have taken advantage of the same funds now allocated to this BART extension. The MTC, however, transferred the money to the latter project because its design was more fully developed. The result, however, makes getting across the South Bay by transit a fantasy rather than a future possibility.

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