The passing of a relatively obscure bureaucratic deadline was another reminder of how badly improvements to the cross-Hudson transit system are needed. Yesterday the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, which approves federal transportation funding in northern NJ, closed comments on its draft Transportation Improvement Program, a list of federally funded projects. One of the biggest changes between this TIP and the previous one? The formal removal of the Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel, which would have added two tracks between NYC and New Jersey, doubling NJ Transit rail service. The badly needed tunnel was, of course, canceled last year by NJ Governor Chris Christie. There seems to be disappointingly little urgency to address the choked cross-Hudson transit commute.
In the aftermath of the ARC Tunnel’s death, two new rail tunnel concepts appeared — Amtrak’s “Gateway Tunnel” to provide new tracks for Amtrak and NJ Transit, and an extension of NYC’s No. 7 subway line to Secaucus, NJ. But Amtrak’s tunnel looks to be a long way off given the current state of federal politics, with House Republicans aiming to starve transportation and privatize the national rail system. And Crain’s Insider recently reported that “talk of extending the No. 7 train to Secaucus has quieted.”
Even if such projects had broad political support, they would likely be decades in the making. ARC had been planned and studied for 20 years when it was canceled.
A nearer-term hope for cross-Hudson transit has been improving and expanding bus travel, which 315,000 people rely on daily. But a bus garage on NYC’s West Side that is essential to this effort has again been pushed back after the Port Authority’s proposed capital plan was reduced last week, along with its proposed toll and fare increases. The trimmed-down capital plan includes some projects needed for bus improvements, like a reconstruction of the “helix” road leading into the tunnel on the NJ side. The phasing in of the PATH fare increase also offers some relief for transit riders. But the bus garage is back on an uncertain schedule and will be dependent on a public-private partnership, as Times Herald-Record columnist Judy Rife points out:
“This should be a big deal when you already have 315,000 people using buses every single day and a terminal and a tunnel at or near capacity,” said Veronica Vanterpool at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The garage would give NJ Transit, Short Line and other companies a place to park their buses between the morning and evening rush and have them at the ready for their homeward-bound customers.
Now, they’re forced to park them in Weehawken and Jersey City and bring them back through the Lincoln Tunnel empty — by the hundreds, in traffic that’s bad enough without buses — and pay the toll again, a toll that soars to $10 from $4 in September. [...]
Of course, all these buses can’t fit into the PABT at the same time, so they circle, circle, circle the streets in [Manhattan Community Board 4 member Christine] Berthet’s neighborhood until there is room at the inn.
As Rife notes, bus delays in the evening are so common that many commuters who take the bus into NYC in the morning opt for the train on the way home. But train riders have faced their own issues, with derailments, electrical problems, and other snafus leading to hours of delay this summer. (It’s not as if this is an unusually bad summer, either; last July and August NJ Transit trains were hit with major delays almost weekly.)
Photo: WCBS 880/Marla Diamond.