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.
A draft study has found an extension of the number 7 subway to Secaucus, New Jersey, would cost far less than the NJ Transit tunnel Governor Chris Christie killed last fall — but would lose only about 5,000 of an expected 130,000 riders per day that were projected to ride the ARC train.
"The idea of having good transportation and mass transportation is something that is very appealing to this city," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday. "I’ve always argued that if you’re going to depend on cars to come into this city, we’re always going to have delays."
Mayor Bloomberg’s administration began looking into the idea of extending the 7 train to Secaucus shortly after the NJ Transit tunnel, known as the ARC tunnel for “Access to the Region’s Core,” was killed.
Christie said he killed the $9 billion project because the actual cost could run as high as $15 billion, and he was concerned that New Jersey taxpayers would be left holding the bag.
But city officials said the new project would have a broader base of financing — from the city, the Port Authority, the state, NJ Transit, the federal government, and the MTA.
And the preliminary study, which exists only in draft form and has not been made public, projects the “Secaucus 7” project would cost less than the ARC because it wouldn’t go as far into Manhattan, or require the construction of a train station in midtown Manhattan, as the ARC tunnel would have.
Bloomberg pushed the extension of the number 7 line train to the far West Side when the city was vying for the 2012 Olympics. That bid failed, but the city is spending $2 billion to bring the 7 train to the Hudson Yards, where the city is planning a major development project. The extension to 34th street and 11th Avenue makes it that much closer to New Jersey.
But the MTA response was lukewarm: “Right now our focus is on finishing the three biggest transportation projects in the entire country, and in making sure that we have the funding we need to keep our capital program moving forward.”
The MTA faces a $10 billion shortfall in its capital plan through 2014. The Port Authority is also short of cash. The bi-state agency recently raised tolls to support reconstruction efforts at the World Trade Center Site and other major infrastructure projects, including replacing all of the suspension cables on the George Washington bridge.
Both the MTA and the Port Authority have new leaders, who have been tasked by Governor Andrew Cuomo with containing costs.
The money that would have been spent on the ARC tunnel has been re-allocated elsewhere. Privately, transit experts expressed doubts that the tunnel could be built so cheaply, or that it could be completed anywhere in the near term. The ARC tunnel was 20 years in the planning.
The 7 extension has the enthusiastic support of the Bloomberg administration, which met with all the major transit agencies and representatives from both governor’s offices. Christie is also backing the project, which could — if it’s constructed — end up giving him bragging rights that killing the tunnel produced a cheaper alternative, particular for New Jersey residents.
"We have been intrigued all along by this as a potential alternative to the ARC tunnel project, which was an albatross for New Jersey and its taxpayers with its billions in cost overruns to be absorbed entirely by New Jersey," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement. "We will continue to explore the No. 7 subway plan, its feasibility, benefits and costs with the city and state of New York and the appropriate government agencies in both states."
The project could help New Jersey commuters get to Manhattan faster than by bus, but it would require a transfer to the New York subway system, which is seen as a less desirable ride than a commuter train. A terminus in Secaucus could also provide the possibility to increase bus capacity in New Jersey, since the number of buses traveling to Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel is currently at capacity.