Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration is seriously exploring extending the No. 7 subway line to New Jersey. The project would connect New York transit riders to New Jersey at about half the price of the ARC tunnel, and would ease congestion and reduce carbon emmissions. But it might not offer the same time-saving benefits as the ARC, and is far from being a reality.
Earlier this fall, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killled the ARC tunnel twice, but it still won't die.
At the time, it almost seemed as though Mayor Michael Bloomberg was indifferent to the project's death. "We are not a party to this," the Mayor said at a City Hall news conference as the ARC tunnel was flatlining. "This is a Port Authority Project. They have their own financial problems and they can afford some things and not others."
But around the same time, the Department of City Planning was coming up with the idea to extend the No. 7 to New Jersey, an idea that was quickly embraced by Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel and the Hudson Yards Development Corporation, according to a city official familiar with the process. Unlike the ARC tunnel, an extension of the No. 7 would start at 11th Avenue and go west, avoiding the costly proposition of boring a tunnel under Manhattan to Herald Square.
The line would also instantly take riders to Grand Central station, a holy grail of the ARC project. But it would not necessarily have the same capacity as the ARC, because trains wouldn't be arriving on several Manhattan platforms, as commuter trains do, but not subways. And New Jersey Transit riders, who were projected to save an average of 45 minutes on their commute times to Manhattan if the ARC Tunnel was completed, would have to switch trains, potentially eliminating much of the time savings.
A City Hall official stressed the project was a "very, very early exploration," and has not been discussed with the MTA, Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo, or Chris Christie. The MTA isn't commenting. "We haven't had a chance to study the proposal," said MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin.
The U.S. Department of Transportation also declined comment, and many experts believe that the city wouldn't be automatically entitled to the $3 billion Governor Christie is returning to the federal government in the wake of the ARC cancelation, and would instead have to go through a competitive application to get the money.
But U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has expressed dismay at the death of the ARC, saying he was "extremely disappointed" with Governor Christie's decision, and he has been a big proponent of public transit.
"Extending the No. 7 line to New Jersey could address many of the region's transportation capacity issues at a fraction of the original tunnel's cost," said Andrew Brent, a City Hall spokesperson.
Transit advocate Gene Russianoff said the extension of the No. 7 project had some "appeal -- but where's the money going to come from?"
Indeed, extension of the No. 7 line has not been funded by the MTA, but has been paid for by the City. Former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff intially pushed for it when it was part of his plan to build a stadium and convention center on the west side of Manhattan for the 2012 Olympics and the Jets Football team.
Neysa Pranger, a spokeswoman for the Regional Plan Association, also expressed qualified support for bringing the No. 7 to New Jersey, noting the project accomplishes "two of the three goals of the ARC project" -- a direct line to Grand Central and increased transit capacity from New York to New Jersey, but not the goal of a one-seat ride from New Jersey to Manhattan. A one-seat ride is a big lure for riders to switch from their cars to public transit.