Yesterday Governor Christie announced the end of the ARC Tunnel, which would have doubled train service across the Hudson River and reduced congestion. ARC will remain a goal for the region, but the loss of federal money means it’s unlikely to be built for at least another generation.
Now many are asking, what’s going to happen to the ARC money? The $3 billion federal “New Starts” share is lost, to be spent in another state on another project. Politicians and commentators from Los Angeles, Baltimore, Washington, NYC and beyond have been eyeing the money for weeks. New Jersey’s money is rumored to replenish the state’s broader transportation program.
The Port Authority will hold on to its $3 billion, however, and spending that money on cross-Hudson bus improvements could help commuters mourning the loss of ARC. A few back-of-the-envelope calculations help explain how.
Whether ARC is built or not, trans-Hudson commuting into and out of Manhattan is expected to increase by 25 percent by 2030, according to NJ Transit’s numbers.
According to ARC’s final Environmental Impact Statement, the project would have shifted daily 11,530 trans-Hudson bus trips and 31,590 trans-Hudson car trips to rail by 2030. Assuming an average bus capacity of 35 passengers, more than 1,230 additional buses will be needed to meet that demand in the absence of ARC. Another 473 buses will be needed to accommodate the baseline projected increase of 16,538 bus trips that would occur even with the tunnel. That’s another 1,703 buses needed by 2030 to accommodate this growth in cross-Hudson trips.
Currently, NJ Transit has a total of 2,125 buses statewide. If half of new trips are on NJ Transit buses (with the other half on private carriers), the agency would have to increase its existing bus fleet by at least 850 buses, or 40%. That’s a major investment.
And with the Lincoln Tunnel’s Express Bus Lane and the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) already at or near capacity, there’s just no way for the existing infrastructure to accommodate 1,703 more buses. As the ARC project’s final environmental impact statement points out, “bus service levels would remain the same as existing conditions… due to capacity limitations at PABT.” In other words, drastic improvements are necessary to allow more buses to enter Manhattan. Luckily, the Port Authority is already considering plans to increase bus capacity through the Lincoln Tunnel and at the PABT. (For more ideas about improving bus service across the Hudson, see TSTC and Streetfilms’s video from 2008.)
But implementing those plans will require potentially controversial things like creating more exclusive bus lanes into and out of the Lincoln Tunnel. So the question remains whether Governor Christie will encourage these plans, or make more decisions that leave commuters stuck in traffic.
Photo: via Federal Transit Administration.