Ray LaHood, Chris Christie Extend ARC Talks

Well, we’ve now entered a phase of the ARC drama where I think it’s fair to wonder whether Chris Christie may simply be adept at brinkmanship. After having a sit-down with Ray LaHood in Trenton today, Christie agreed to reconsider his decision to kill the trans-Hudson rail tunnel project. Sprawl vs. compact development, traffic vs. trains, economic stagnation vs. an engine for growth — it all hangs in the balance.

The parties have mapped out a two-week process for U.S. DOT and New Jersey officials to review different options to move the ARC project forward. The Star-Ledger has the story.

If you’re an optimist about these talks, I think the relevant question now is: What conditions will LaHood have to meet? Share your scenarios in the comments.

  • Let’s redesign the whole thing so it connects with Penn or ESA. Hell, axe the 7 line extension and use that money for ARC.

  • Nowhere on your list is the question of a $3 billion tunnel versus a $9 billion tunnel. It’s sad.

  • $3 billion tunnel? Could we do it for that cheap? If so, and every one of the five parties with interest in the tunnel (NJ, NY, PANYNJ, FTA, and Amtrak), could chip in equal amounts and we’d have a bargain. Where’s your $3 billion plan?

  • vnm

    LaHood should offer to pay for the project’s overruns, which was ostensibly the aspect of this that worried Christie, and in exchange require that NJ replenish its transportation trust fund by increasing some combination of gasoline taxes and tolls. That would give Christie the political cover he needed to raise gas taxes and tolls. He could say “I know I said I wouldn’t raise taxes, but that Democrat Obama made me do it.” Obama would win deep blue NJ in any re-election contest, so he can take the hit.

  • tw

    As an NJ resident, I’d be pretty ecstatic with that plan. I figured him to be more vain and preening than that–and that he would turn down LaHood anyway, or require the feds to pay for cost overruns *and* turnpike widening or something. But if Christie only wants cover for raising the gas tax, he may turn out to be a better governor than I thought.

  • ChrisC

    Is the ARC ideal?

    No. An ideal tunnel would go to Grand Central, maybe even bypassing Penn. Hell, put the tunnels at Hoboken Terminal underground, and build a tunnel from there to GCT. People living in Hoboken would be able to get to East Midtown in 10 minutes!

    But ARC is a hell of a lot better than nothing. And it looks like it’s between ARC or nothing in our lifetimes.

  • $3 billion tunnel? Could we do it for that cheap?

    Yes. Eliminate the cavern, which has been responsible to the bulk of the cost overruns. A tunnel from Penn Station to Grand Central would be cheaper than the cavern. Just connecting the new tunnels to the existing stations, and through-running trains to make more efficient use of station track space, would be even cheaper.

  • Larry Littlefield

    New York City pays for it by eliminating the Second Avenue Subway. Forget it.

    The only scenario I could see is if Amtrak kicked in some money on the condition it merely connects to Penn Station. But Amtrak doesn’t really have money either, and will have a lot less if the Republicans take Congress.

  • Larry Littlefield

    On the assumption that the goal is money transferred from New York, to heck with ARC.

    How about one additional track from NJ through to the Sunnyside Yards. Currently you have three tracks in and one out from Long Island, and one track in and one out from NJ.

    The single additional track would allow one trip per day trains from NJ to run into and out of Manhattan in the AM to the Sunnyside Yards, and then back the other way in the PM. Off peak, one track could be taken out of service for repairs.

    Use NY workers for the job, since it would mean tearing the heck out of Manhattan.

  • Larry: first, Amtrak does have the money for it. The NJ-NY tunnels are the limiting factor to how many profitable Regional and Acela trains it can run every hour.

    Second, the alternative you’re describing is a scaled down version of Alternative S from the original alternatives analysis; Alt S called for two new tracks going all the way from NJ to Penn to Sunnyside. According to the alternatives analysis it would’ve been cheaper than Alt P and more expensive than Alt G.

    It is rarely discussed nowadays because it is strictly worse than Alt G, as the LI-Penn tunnels are not at capacity and are about to be relieved anyway by ESA. People tend to either support the official decision or root for the best alternative. The middle option doesn’t have enough support from anyone to act as a reasonable compromise.

    For the record, my own ranked preference list is Alt G > Alt P without cavern > Alt S > No Build > Alt P with both cavern and connection to Penn > Alt P with only cavern. The original Alt P called for both a cavern and a connection to Penn; the connection to Penn got dropped after the first round of budget overruns.

  • Henry

    Why don’t we just connect the ARC to existing platforms at Penn, connect the tracks at those platforms to the LIRR tracks, and then through route service from New Jersey to Long Island?
    While there is probably little demand for the service (besides maybe through service to the Meadowlands on game days), I’m pretty sure that unloading a train for a 30-60 second stop is more efficient at Penn than a 5 minute turnaround.

  • Glenn

    This is just a shakedown for a few hundred million – classic negotiating tactic. Here’s a big program that he can pretend to not want and then when all the reasonable people talk him off the ledge and give him something to call a win, then he can turn around and declare victory on both fronts – and he’ll definitely be at all the photo-ops. Just like all the Governors who claimed they didn’t want the stimulus and then bragged about all the benefits in their state. It’s shameless politics – high stakes games that interfere with people’s everyday lives – and people should be offended by this.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “While there is probably little demand for the service (besides maybe through service to the Meadowlands on game days), I’m pretty sure that unloading a train for a 30-60 second stop is more efficient at Penn than a 5 minute turnaround.”

    It talks a lot longer to empty a commuter rail car than it does a subway car, especially since everyone is getting off in one place, they are often coming from a second story, and if they don’t get off in time they end up miles away.

  • Have you ever been to Paris, Larry?

  • Why don’t we just connect the ARC to existing platforms at Penn, connect the tracks at those platforms to the LIRR tracks, and then through route service from New Jersey to Long Island?

    Agency turf battles. Can you imagine the LIRR, which refused to merge with Metro-North on the grounds that Long Island is unique, running trains to New Jersey? Institutional tradition is too important to sacrifice for a mere $6 billion saving.

  • Andrew

    the LIRR, which refused to merge with Metro-North on the grounds that Long Island is unique

    Cite?

  • BrooklynNative

    For the millionth time, ARC and the Penn Station expansion can’t link to Grand Central Station!!!!!!! The New York City water tunnel, the tunnel that supplies water to most of the city, is in the way! DEP will not let any tunnel come within 200 feet of the water tunnel for fear of doing damage to the water tunnel and jeopardizing the water supply!

  • BrooklynNative

    Alon LevyWhy don’t we just connect the ARC to existing platforms at Penn, connect the tracks at those platforms to the LIRR tracks, and then through route service from New Jersey to Long Island?

    Agency turf battles. Can you imagine the LIRR, which refused to merge with Metro-North on the grounds that Long Island is unique, running trains to New Jersey? Institutional tradition is too important to sacrifice for a mere $6 billion saving

    This is totally false. The tracks from the tunnel can’t connect to existing tracks at Penn Station because there is too much infrastructure below ground that is in the way. We’re talking about water mains, subway lines, building foundations, etc. ARC has to be as deep as it was proposed because it is the only way to get past every obstacle between the Hudson River and Penn Station. Read the project’s plans before you make comments based on nothing but personal opinions.

  • BrooklynNative

    Alon – You know very well that the DEP will not let NJT/PANYNJ extend anything from Penn Station to Grand Central Station because of the water tunnel that is in the way. You’ve read up on this project more than most people. You know that DEP will not let anything below ground come within 200 feet of the water tunnel. The current ARC designs were the best they could come up with over the course of 20 years of planning. Once the new water tunnel is completed, DEP will relent and consider extended the tracks from ARC to Grand Central. When that new water tunnel is completed, DEP will have a second water supply route for the city and their concern over possible damage to the already existing water tunnel from trains passing beneath it or above it will diminish.

  • Nathanael

    BrooklynNative — did you know that you can connect from the East River Tunnels east of Penn Station, to Grand Central, without coming near the Water Tunnels? Hint: look at a map.

    The only troublesome section is from Park Avenue at about 40th St. though 34th St somewhat west of Park Avenue. Building foundations — yes, an issue. Utilities — yes, an issue. Water tunnels — they don’t go there.

    As for the LIRR’s refusal to merge with Metro-North, look up the “MTA Rail” plan. It was rejected due *solely* to turf wars.

  • @BrooklynNative: your claim about the connection to Penn is false. The original Alt P included both a connection to Penn and a cavern; the connection to Penn was dropped amidst budget overruns. And that was after they decided the tunnel had to swerve far away from the existing tunnel pair and have a different vertical profile, supposedly to avoid damaging the existing tunnels.

    The 200-feet issue with the water tunnel is exactly why Alt G could have worked. The water tunnel is deep underground – deeper than ARC, actually. A subsurface connection would’ve missed the tunnel by more than 200 feet.

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