Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg Pushing Ahead With 7 Line Expansion To Secaucus

While New York is looking at the replacement of the Tappan Zee bridge and Amtrak is contemplating the Gateway tunnel project, New York City's Mayor Mike Bloomberg is forging ahead with a proposal to expand the 7 Line to Secaucus along much of the right of way that would have been utilized by the cancelled ARC tunnel.

In fact, Gov. Chris Christie, who killed the ARC project, appears to be for the project and is letting Bloomberg take the lead.
The cross-Hudson tunnel would connect to the 7 train, which is being extended from Time Square to a new terminal at 11th Avenue and 34th Street. The current project will be completed in 14 months.
The next steps in the process are a full business plan and environmental-impact study, which have not yet been commissioned.
During his weekly radio appearance on WOR Friday, Bloomberg didn’t reveal his enthusiasm for the project, saying only, “If there’s money for it and it makes sense, I’d certainly support it.”
But yesterday, Bloomberg spokeswoman Julie Wood sounded a more optimistic note: “Since we began exploring this idea, we continue to think it has a lot of potential as a way to cost-effectively improve regional transportation and also create thousands of jobs.”
Officials in the Christie administration and the Port Authority are working with City Hall on the No. 7 concept, but insist that the mayor take the lead.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said yesterday, “We have been intrigued all along by this as a potential alternative.”

A year ago, Bloomberg was reluctant to pony up any dough when Christie killed a New York-New Jersey tunnel project called ARC, or Access to the Region’s Core. That project called for a new tunnel for NJ Transit commuter trains to be built from Secaucus to Herald Square.

Christie said ARC’s design was flawed, and its price tag was no longer reasonable after ballooning to a range of $11 billion to $14 billion -- up from $8.7 billion.

Early estimates say a No. 7 tunnel could be built for less than $10 billion, a sum that would be split among the city, the PA and New Jersey. Officials are also planning to hit up the feds for cash.

Extending the No. 7 to New Jersey would quickly become a key talking point in the mayor’s legacy.
The 7 Line is already being extended to 11th Avenue and 34th Street from Times Square. That segment is likely to go into revenue service in less than 2 years. If the 7 Line ran from Secaucus, a New Jersey commuter could transfer at Secaucus (the first stop) and have a one-seat ride into Queens (including Citifield) for Mets games.

Critics may complain that this doesn't provide the kind of one-seat ride that commuter rail across the Hudson would do, but that's rediculous. The NYC MTA subways operate 24/7/365, and that's far better service than NJ Transit provides. It would be a tremendous increase in cross-Hudson passenger capacity; far in excess of what NJ Transit would ever hope to achieve. Further, it would make true use of the Secaucus boondoggle - turning it into a true first-class transit hub ripe for development in New Jersey. It would mean that commuters would no longer have to go into Manhattan to catch the subway; they could do so from Secaucus and not have to hassle with bridge and tunnel tolls and traffic.

It's a win-win for everyone involved, but for the costs. The MTA is still cash-strapped, and they have other projects on their plate that are oft-delayed, including East Side Access and the 2d Avenue Subway. The debt load by the MTA is particularly concerning, especially since the state and city have raided the MTA coffers and/or reduced commitments for mass transit over the years. More and more of the MTA budget is being used for debt service, rather than capital budget or operating budget purposes. That will require an infusion of money to bring the system onto solid fiscal ground.

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