Coalition Calls for Affordable Trans-Hudson Project

Coalition Calls for Affordable Trans-Hudson Project, As Feds Demand “ARC” Money Back from NJT

Just as the Lackawanna Coalition made the case in New England for an affordable project that would bring a new rail tunnel into New York’s Penn Station to improve regional connectivity, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reiterated its demand that New Jersey repay $271 million that it had advanced to New Jersey Transit for the former “ARC” project.

There is little dispute that New Jersey rail riders should have an enhanced railroad and a new tunnel to New York Penn Station, and the Lackawanna Coalition insists that it can and should be built for an affordable price. The Coalition has advocated for such a project since before Gov. Chris Christie terminated the former “ARC” project last fall.  Christie halted work on the project, which would have included a new “deep-cavern” terminal 20 stories below 34th Street in Manhattan, because of its excessive cost.  He also noted that the project was “flawed” because it did not go to Penn Station or connect with Amtrak and could not be extended to the East Side of Midtown.  This past February, Amtrak proposed its Gateway Project, which would bring new tracks into a stub-end annex adjacent to Penn Station, but its price tag is equally high and no source of funding has been identified for it.

Continue Reading Coalition Calls for Affordable Trans-Hudson Project

Coalition Endorses Proposal for “Affordable ARC Now—Not Later”

The Lackawanna Coalition has passed a resolution in support of building “An Affordable ARC Project Now—Not Later”.  The organization calls on the state commissioner of transportation and the executive director of New Jersey Transit (NJT) to implement plans that would expand and modernize Northeast Corridor (NEC) capacity while drawing only on $6.4 billion in existing funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In keeping with the Coalition’s often-stated priority of “Moynihan/Penn Station First,” the project would add a new track between the Midtown Direct entrance to the NEC in Kearny, N.J. and New York Penn Station (NYP), with another to be built later if needed. This would greatly improve NEC capacity and reliability while allowing for East Side Access in the future.

The project would also increase New Jersey capital construction jobs by reclaiming $3.4 billion in federal New Start funds that US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood offered to Gov. Chris Christie this past October, prior to Christie’s final decision to terminate the ARC project.  It would also increase NJT’s say in matters concerning the NEC and NYP, by leveraging $6.4 billion investment of New Jersey-controlled funds.  The Coalition also calls for participation in the decision-making process by local, regional, and national advocates representing the riding public.

NJ Gov Christie Kills ARC Tunnel

At a 1:30 p.m. news conference on October 7, NJ Gov. Chris Christie announced that the long-planned trans-Hudson rail-tunnel construction project will be terminated; the Governor said that the original estimated cost of $8.7 billion might actually balloon to $11–14 billion, an amount that he said New Jersey could not afford.  About $600 million had already been spent on the project; Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said that about half of that came from federal sources and would have to be repaid.  Transportation advocates and officials in Washington said that the $3 billion pledged by the federal government toward the project would likely be spent on transportation projects in other states.  They said that Christie is expected to propose that the additional $3 billion pledged by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey be reallocated to projects within New Jersey.  (New York Times)

Use It or Lose It?

From our September/October 2010 Railgram newsletter 

How the ARC Project Can Be “Right-sized” into the Moynihan/Penn Station First Alternative

Can the currently planned Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, which would build a dead-end deep-cavern terminal 20 stories (181’) beneath 34th Street in Manhattan, be right-sized into rail advocates’ Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative, which brings the new ARC trans-Hudson tunnels into an expanded and improved existing Penn Station without fear of losing up to $3 billion in federal New Starts Program funds?  The unequivocal answer is Yes!  In fact, the only way to guarantee receiving these funds is to change the ARC project to this lower-cost alternative.

One of my advocate colleagues told me of a conversation he had with a local New Jersey official who said he believes NJ Transit should build the proposed deep-cavern terminal, “because there is money available for it, and building the project as proposed would be better than losing the potential funding.”  I was asked to refute that argument, and this op-ed is my answer.

First, there is not enough money for the ARC project at its current $10.4 billion total price tag (which includes the cost of the Portal Bridge Project): the state’s depleted capital funding coffers have even made it impossible to guarantee to the satisfaction of the federal government that the New Jersey share of the ARC project—$4 billion—will be available when needed.  To date, the state has not been given a guarantee of receiving New Starts funds, called a Full Funding Grant Agreement.

If the state were able to get a federal guarantee of funds and moved forward with the current ARC project based on the “Use it, or Lose it” philosophy of government spending, New Jersey would quickly find itself in the position New York State finds itself in today with the similarly sized East Side Access project for the Long Island Rail Road: forced to fund a mega-project at the expense of a multitude of other capital projects—stealing from Peter’s, Jane’s and who knows who else’s worthy projects to pay for Paul’s single megaproject.

This “crowding-out” process is already underway, with $147 million of the $600 million in Transportation Trust Fund dollars appropriated for NJT capital projects in the current State budget committed to ARC and its sister Portal Bridge project, despite past assurances that the ARC project would be funded “. . . without a single Trust Fund dollar.”  There can be no doubt that other transit capital projects were deferred or cancelled to provide this $147 million.

Second, the best way to guarantee receiving federal funds is bring the cost of the project down to a price New Jersey can demonstrate that it can afford.  That is exactly what the Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative accomplishes, reducing the total cost and local share of the project by $3 billion or more.  That brings the local share down to $1 billion, less than the $1.25 billion in funds from the issuance of New Jersey Turnpike Authority bonds committed to the project.

Obtaining a federal guarantee of New Starts funding would no longer be blocked by New Jersey’s inability to guarantee its share, and the “crowding out” problem is eliminated.

To repeat my initial statement for emphasis, “The only way to guarantee receiving up to $3 billion in federal New Starts Program funds for the ARC project is to change from the current $10.4 billion dead-end deep-cavern plan to the $3 billion cheaper rail advocates’ Moynihan/Penn Station First expanded/improved existing Penn Station alternative.”

Joseph M. Clift is Chair of the Technical Committee of the Lackawanna Coalition and served as Diector of Planning for the Long Island Rail Road.

Transit Funding Bill Introduced in Congress

The Public Transportation Preservation Act of 2010 (S-3412) has been introduced in Congress.  The bill would provide $2 billion in grants for cash-strapped transit providers around the nation so they can continue to operate transit service.  Essentially every transit agency in the country, including New Jersey Transit, is having financial difficulties.  The Lackawanna Coalition and other rail-advocacy organizations have consistently called for this sort of Federal operating support for transit.