Monday, October 03, 2011

Gov. Christie Gets His Way On Ending Sad ARC Chapter

When Governor Chris Christie killed the woeful ARC tunnel project that even boosters of mass transit said was a misbegotten plan that wouldn't relieve congestion and would saddle New Jersey taxpayers with anywhere from $1 to $5 billion in cost overruns, backers of the project slammed Christie for killing a project that was in the works for years and that would supposedly cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in repayments for federal funds already expended.

Well, Gov. Christie won that fight too. Instead of repaying $271 million, New Jersey will be on the hook for $95 million over five years, and the $1 million spent on legal fees to fight the repayment looks like money well spent.

The fact is that the ARC tunnel was a boondoggle that would have made the Secaucus Junction project look like child's play. NJ Transit has repeatedly shown itself incapable of bringing in projects on time and on schedule - especially larger projects like what was being contemplated.

Moreover, there were huge problems with the design. It wasn't that this was a tunnel to Macy's/Herald Square. It was that the tunnel would not relieve congestion like NJ Transit claimed it would; it would not have access to store trains in Sunnyside Yards, meaning that trains coming into the new terminal access would have to be sent back to New Jersey for storage between rush hours. It was a pitiful design considering all the money spent and it wasn't even the best of the alternatives considered.

Proponents of ARC came back and proposed another alternative, Gateway, which would be built under Amtrak auspices, and that proposal has a whole lot more going for it. For starters, it would bring truly high speed rail access to Manhattan, and increase the amount of NJ Transit trains into Manhattan. It just wouldn't bring as many trains as NJ Transit wished for (but which NJ Transit can't afford to run because the agency simply keeps cutting service because it lacks the capacity and operating budget to do so unless it raises fares). In fact, NJ Transit raised fares and cut service in the last round, and all the talk about a one-seat ride into Manhattan from Northern NJ is just that - talk. It wouldn't happen, and if it did, it would eliminate the need for having built Secaucus Transfer the way they did - for an obscene cost and which draws a fraction of the riders that it was originally intended to do. A one-seat ride would eliminate the reason for most of those using the station at all - to transfer between the Northern New Jersey train lines into NY Penn Station.

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