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