Picture This: ARC Money + Congestion Pricing = No More NYC Transit Cuts

Later today, Governor Chris Christie is expected to announce that he’s shutting down construction of the ARC tunnel for good, closing off the potential for transit-based growth in northern New Jersey for the foreseeable future. In a dark day for smart planning and development, the project to double NJ Transit’s capacity to Manhattan has become a casualty of cheap-gas-at-all-costs populism.

New Jersey’s loss will be somebody else’s gain: $3 billion in Federal Transit Administration funding will shift from ARC to other projects. Already, elected officials are making their case to the feds. In a letter sent to U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood a few days ago, New York City Council transportation chair Jimmy Vacca said he’d be sad to see ARC go, but…

…if New Jersey is intent on abandoning this worthy project, it is imperative that the $3 billion in federal funds available be used to fund the many other vital transportation projects on queue in the New York region, such as the long overdue Second Avenue Subway, the 7 train extension, and the Long Island Rail Road East Side Access project. All are at risk of not being completed due to lack of funding.

…the MTA’s five-year, $26 billion capital program is currently funded only through the second year, with no guarantee that New York State will fund the remaining three years. This capital program funds station rehabilitations, new communication signals and tracks, and routine replacement of buses and subway cars… If the ARC Tunnel is canceled, then the Federal Government’s contribution should stay within the Greater New York Metropolitan Region and help stabilize the MTA’s finances.

It will probably be rather difficult to convince the FTA to put more money into the MTA capital program. The feds are already the primary funder of the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, and this June FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff promised Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd that “not a single penny” more from the New Starts program would go toward the escalating costs of those mega-projects. New Starts is the same pot of money that would have funded ARC.

However, $3 billion is a lot of money — nearly a billion more dollars than LaHood’s DOT has dispensed in two rounds of TIGER grants. Surely some of it should go toward the MTA, which provides about a third of all transit trips in the United States. So indulge in the following scenario…

Say the FTA makes a proportional amount of the $3 billion available to New York. About a billion dollars would go toward the MTA. But if I were the feds, I’d make New York earn its share. No spoils from ARC without a new local revenue stream to plug that yawning, $9 billion gap in the capital program, which threatens to bury straphangers under an avalanche of MTA debt.

How about a billion dollar carrot to help Albany finally muster the guts to enact congestion pricing?

Congestion pricing was projected to translate into $4.5 billion in bonds for the capital program, before Democrats in the Assembly killed it in 2008. Add that revenue to $1 billion from the feds, and you’ll go a long way toward staving off a slow-motion disaster of continually rising fares and shrinking service.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, some of that federal money and congestion pricing might mean funding ongoing normal replacement without debt. That has to happen permanently, not with one-shot money (at least the CP portion would be ongoing).

    Meanwhile, what about the Port Authority money? That could pay for the second phase of the SAS, which we need, and perhaps some other things too.

    NJ owes NY for the 1990s, when as a result of two fiscal crises ago the MTA raised fares and tolls but the Port Authority did not — in cancelled most of the airport access program and used the profits from NY airports to keep the fares and tolls for NJ lower than for NY. Let’s get that money back.

  • MRN

    Um,
    Am I the only who doesn’t understand the 7-Line Extension? This won’t really help anything and will just raise costs for the MTA, and it’ll be service-reduction proof for the near future. I hope that that $3B doesn’t go towards that…

  • Ben: Get in line. This cash is now earmarked for LA’s 30/10 Initiative. ;o)

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joel-epstein/new-jerseys-gift-to-metro_b_754983.html

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Am I the only who doesn’t understand the 7-Line Extension?”

    Perhaps. There is little room left to add large floorplate office buildings in Manhattan, other than the far west side. The Flushing Line extension would make that area accessible to subway riders, and MetroNorth riders. It is the kind of transit investment NY used to make.

    And running the Flushing Line that much farther would add little to cost, while potentially adding riders. My guess is it would be profitable.

    The real issue with the Flushing line is that in response to the usual cost over-runs, tail tracks were cut out of the plan beyond the last station. That means that trains will have to creep into the terminal, as the signal system slows them to a speed that at every point would allow them to be stopped by the automatic stops before hitting the wall at the end of the station. (Tail tracks aren’t used — they just allow more speed into the terminal because they are there in case of train operator error).

    As a result, the capacity of the Flushing line will be constrained. Lack of tail tracks also limits trains per hour on the Canarsie line.

  • Gary

    What could $3B in improvements to the NE corridor line do?

  • “The real issue with the Flushing line is that in response to the usual cost over-runs, tail tracks were cut out of the plan beyond the last station.”

    Larry: You have a source for that? As far as I know, the tail track tunnels have been dug out and crews have started to prep tunnels for the track if not lay the track.

  • Bolwerk

    It probably should go towards a legitimate new project. Sam Schwarz’s suggestion for a Staten Island subway extension perhaps? Pataki’s AirTrain to Manhattan wet dream (might get the PA onboard too)?

  • Gary

    Link for the Sam Schwartz Staten Island Suggestion:
    http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/10/14/2010-10-14_staten_island_needs_nj_tunnel_money_the_borough_plagued_by_traffic_deserves_bett.html

    I’ve always wished for SAS to extend out to SI.

    – Additional phasing of SAS
    – Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel
    – NE Corridor improvements

    There are endless possibilities locally for this money.

    Note that with the Cross-Harbor the PANYNJ is the lead, so theoretically the PA and Federal money could both be transferred to the same project.

  • Bolwerk

    SAS to SI might be a tall order, given the distance under the harbor – probably having to go around New Jersey too! Of course, billions wouldn’t be wasted by that ridiculous cavern either.

    The R Train might be a more realistic option.

  • Gary

    SAS to SI by way of Brooklyn, to be more precise.

  • Gary

    I’m open to discussion of alignments but I do believe SAS should connect the bronk, Manhattan, Brooklyn and SI.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s official, according to Bloomberg News.

    Let’s be realistic. Nothing that isn’t built after 2018 or so will ever be built, as the cost of senior benefits soars. And I wouldn’t expect the Second Avenue Subway to make it to 42nd Street, let along Staten Island.

    What can be come, what is on the table, is:

    The second Flushing line extension station, since no federal money has been used for the project.

    The 96th to 125th Street portion of the SAS, large sections of which are already there. Built it already. It would provide an alternative during Lex shutdowns for repairs, reduce crowding, and allow commuters from the Northern Suburbs and CT a better way to get to the Upper East Side hospital complex.

    MetroNorth to Penn. What would be required, really? Perhaps third rail power down the West Side, and some adjustments so MetroNorth trains wouldn’t foul when shifting from under-running to over-running third rail.

    And, maintenance projects.

  • capt subway

    In all the sound and fury surrounding the cancellation of this project no mention is ever made on how ill conceived the deep level dead end terminal under 34th St actually is. (You could fit the Statue of Liberty into one of the elevator shafts with a few more feet to spare.) The Arc tunnels should have connected to the existing Penn Sta, finally providing both Amtrak and NJT the redundancy they so sorely need around this 100 year old two track choke point on what is otherwise a mostly 4 track corridor. At the same time the Penn Sta connection could have reduced the total price tag for the project by from a third to almost a half. I had done some consulting for advocacy groups and, rest assured, the Penn Sta connection is perfectly feasible from an engineering and train operations POV. What little work has been done thus far would not prevent the tunnels from being redirected into Penn, if this projected should ever be revived.

  • Boris

    I agree with the Capt’n. In theory, Christie can have his cake and eat it too – save $billions, still get the tunnel built, and even increase capacity beyond what it would have been had the construction continued as planned. Alternative G is still on the table. Is there anyone out there making noise, publicly or privately, for this win-win compromise?

    Although, I suppose Christie is canceling the project for purely political reasons, so anything that creates new union jobs just wouldn’t fly for him.

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