Friday, February 04, 2011

New York To Study Extending 7 Line To Secaucus

After Gov. Chris Christie killed the ARC tunnel project and riled the likes of Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, one of the alternative proposals was that the MTA should extend the 7 line to Secaucus.

Well, the MTA and New York City are going to conduct a study whether it makes sense to do so.
The city hired engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff this week to analyze how many riders the line could serve, how they would connect to the NJTransit train hub in Secaucus and - most importantly - how much it would cost.

Their study is due in three months, which Deputy Mayor Robert Steel said will help show government and transportation agencies in the region whether to go forward.

"All of [them] are focused on trying to understand, is this a good alternative?" Steel said. "It's a matter of months, not years."

Other officials in New York and New Jersey are looking at the idea, but haven't put up any cash to make it happen.

It could give New Jersey residents their first direct train line to Grand Central Terminal, as well as to see the Mets or the U.S. Open in Queens.

"City Hall really does want to explore it," said one person involved in the multiagency talks.

"They have an incredibly reluctant MTA partner, and an incredibly wary New Jersey state government," the source cautioned. "[MTA Chairman] Jay Walder doesn't have enough money to finish what they're already doing."

The city is paying $2.1 billion to extend the 7 train to 34th St. and 11th Ave., where it will serve a massive office and housing development planned for the West Side rail yards.
Schumer, along with New Jersey's Sen. Lautenberg have been hypercritical of Christie's shutdown of the ARC tunnel over expected cost overruns that would likely leave New Jersey on the hook for an excess of $1 billion (some estimates put it as high as $5 billion).

Schumer and Lautenberg were unable to find additional funding to cover potential overruns, and the federal DOT could only provide additional loans to cover potential overruns. All they could do was snipe at Christie looking at the state's financial health and seeing that the state could not afford to cover cost overruns that were beyond its control. No one else was willing to step in to cover the overruns, which should be a warning sign that Christie was right to reconsider the project since if the costs could be contained, it should have been easy to convince other entities (the federal government, or New York) to cover potential cost overruns directly.

It's inexcusable on their part to not find the funding or ways to enable New York to pony up the overruns. New York state finances are in shambles as I've repeatedly warned and argued, but a new rail connection was critical to reducing congestion and improving service along the Northeast Corridor. Further, the new tunnels could support additional traffic that could be generated by a link to Stewart Airport in Newburgh. The Port Authority bought the airport in an attempt to reduce congestion at the other area airports but hasn't found a way to integrate it into the long term airport strategy. It needs a high speed rail link to make that a credible option, but no one has the money to make it happen.

That's where the federal stimulus funds should have come into play - using the federal government's funding to build major infrastructure that would help bring relief to the millions of commuters and travelers who rely on an aged and decrepit system.

The 7 line extension would be less costly than the ARC tunnel project, and would bring a more direct routing for commuters looking to get to the East Side of Manhattan and the rest of the City and it's an option worth seriously considering, even if a portion of the ill-conceived Xanadu looks like it will collapse under the strain of the latest snowstorm.

Moreover, the 7 line extension would likely be able to use much of the real estate procured for the ARC tunnel and the engineering expenditures and other work on the tunnel before it was cancelled. That will further reduce the New Jersey tab that it would owe to the federal government for canceling the project.

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