Thursday, October 14, 2010

ARC Tunnel Proponents Use Misleading Statistics

Proponents of the ARC Tunnel are claiming that someone from Rutherford could save 20 minutes every day commuting into Manhattan if the ARC tunnel is built. That's assuming that the person is going to commute to Penn Station and not Lower Manhattan via PATH (which is a longer commute thanks to the construction of Secaucus and the additional stop made there).

Is the time savings (which likely wont be 10 minutes each way because there are routinely delays of 5 minutes built into scheduled times) worth the cost projected at $10 billion or more?


Moreover, a one-seat ride virtually eliminates the need for the $1 billion transfer station that has been underutilized ever since it was built. The time savings may not materialize because of train schedules that continue to send trains to Hoboken and into Penn Station, rather than delivering all trains to Hoboken. Without a major increase in parking at stations all along the North Jersey train lines, there isn't going to be the mass of commuters necessary to justify the costs.

Of much more immediate utility is the necessity to build a replacement to the Portal Bridge. That bridge repeatedly causes major disruptions to traffic on the Northeast Corridor and is a major choke point as the 4-track system narrows to two tracks (just as it does for the Hudson River tunnels). A typical problem with the Portal Bridge can cause 30-60 minute delays, just as it did last night.

A replacement project would eliminate the movable bridge section and build a fixed span in its place that enables high speed transiting of the area leading into Secaucus. That's where the money should have been spent first and foremost, but instead the money went for the Secaucus Transfer and then to the ARC Tunnel.

It's a misplaced sense of priorities among all the concerned parties - including NJ Transit and Amtrak.

That needs to be addressed, but this latest report does nothing of the sort. Senator Lautenberg referred obliquely to the delays last night and claimed that the ARC tunnel would fix that problem, but these are two separate projects.

The ARC Tunnel is a necessity, but not at the cost of bankrupting New Jersey which lacks the ability to cover the expected cost overruns. The federal government is in a position to best make sure that the project moves ahead, but at the same time assurances that the costs can be contained (and that the costs are reasonable and accurately reflect the conditions and costs) must be delivered. This can't be a blank check, even for the federal government.

After all, other projects around the country can come in on budget and on schedule, despite daunting construction hazards and technological hurdles. Take the Hoover Dam Bypass (Highway 93 bypass). It came in on budget and on schedule, despite working in the extreme conditions of the Colorado River basis and in close proximity to a national landmark. The replacement I-35 bridge in Minneapolis came in under budget and ahead of schedule and the contractor won $27 million in performance bonuses for completing the structure ahead of schedule. The winning bid ended up being well below the expected costs.

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