How do you transport more people between New Jersey and Manhattan when the existing tunnels are at capacity and “one of the biggest public policy blunders in New Jersey’s history” brought the last tunnel project, Access to the Region’s Core (ARC), to a screeching halt?
One long-term solution is to try again, and that’s exactly what Amtrak is doing with the Gateway Tunnel, a plan that took an important step forward last week when the MTA resolved to preserve a right-of-way beneath Hudson Yards for the tunnel. While it does not add as much capacity or as many direct connections as ARC would have, the tunnel would accommodate an additional 13 NJ Transit trains and eight Amtrak trains into New York City per hour. But the project isn’t expected to be completed until 2025. Commuters can’t wait another 12 years for more transit between Manhattan and New Jersey, which is why the need for additional bus lanes in the Lincoln Tunnel remains a pressing priority for New Jersey commuters.
The Lincoln Tunnel’s current Exclusive Bus Lane (XBL), the busiest bus lane in the country, transforms a westbound traffic lane into an eastbound bus-only lane between 6:15 and 10 a.m. While it has added much-needed trans-Hudson transit capacity to the tunnel, today the XBL accommodates more than three times as many daily buses as it did in 1971, its first full year of operation. On top of that, there’s no exclusive bus lane in the afternoon/evening rush hour, even though New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) data show that about as many bus commuters leave Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel during the evening rush as the number that arrive in Manhattan during the morning rush.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) must increase capacity for buses in the Lincoln Tunnel, in the mornings as well as in the evenings. But additional bus-only or bus/HOV lanes in the Lincoln Tunnel will only take commuters so far — literally. The Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT), where more than one in 10 buses leave late, is already bursting at the seams, so adding capacity in the Lincoln Tunnel won’t do much good if there’s no space for buses once they arrive in Manhattan.
The deferral of PABT’s expansion means that bus commuters will have to deal with the congestion and long commutes until funding for this project becomes a priority. In the meantime, the City and the Port Authority must identify new locations for bus parking and for passenger pick-up and drop-off in the vicinity of PABT — but not, of course, without community input – to allow for more bus capacity before the terminal’s expansion is complete.
While PANYNJ’s construction program, announced last week, does not include an expanded bus terminal, it may be coming in the next capital plan.
The [public-private] partnership will free up Port Authority capital needed for other projects in its long-term capital plan, which will be unveiled later this year. [PANYNJ Executive Director Patrick] Foye said it will “be robust.”
Just how robust will the next capital plan be? We’ll have to wait until later this year to find out. If the currently-underway construction on the lesser-known George Washington Bridge Bus Station, which handles about five percent of cross-Hudson bus commuter traffic, is any indication of PANYNJ’s future priorities, then there’s reason to be optimistic.