Regional Plan Assoc. Says Billions Needed To Improve Trans-Hudson Commutation

John Jordan | September 2017

NEW YORK—While President Donald Trump and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have each professed the need for the federal and state governments, and the private sector to invest more in infrastructure, a proposal released by the Regional Plan Association to fix the New York City transit system may test the mettle of both men.

The RPA in its report entitled “Crossing the Hudson: How to Increase Transit Capacity and Improve Commutes” issued recommendations geared at improving and expanding Trans Hudson transit service. In addition to advocating the immediate start of construction of the $20-billion Gateway Tunnel project, the regional think tank also recommended other multi-billion dollar infrastructure initiatives.

The association in the report released on Aug. 15th recommended a phased 20-year infrastructure plan that begins with what it terms as the “first priority”—immediately beginning construction of the more than $20-billion Gateway project. The association stated that the entire Northeast corridor depends on the Hudson River rail tunnels damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The RPA in the report stressed that the federal government must honor its commitment to pay for half of the project. The RPA also recommended that the Gateway Development Corp. accelerate the timeline for the project’s completion to ease the current transit crisis and avert what it says would be “a transportation disaster if and when the almost 110-year-old current tunnels fail.”

“Commuting across the Hudson River has become downright miserable for hundreds of thousands of people a day. It’s threatening not just our quality of life, but the very foundation of the region’s economy,” said Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association. The report states that the federal government, New York State and New Jersey have looked at major infrastructure projects, such as Gateway and others, in isolation and instead need to be studied holistically.

Wright warned, “If no action is taken, commuters who cross the Hudson River every day risk being stranded or forced into increasingly dangerous travel situations. Moreover, the economic health of the entire region and its residents depends on how our current leaders react to this crisis and plan for the future.”

At the same time the Gateway project is underway, the next initiative would involve a partnership between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York City and New York State to build a second bus terminal in the basement of the Javits Center. The facility would consolidate all intercity buses, connect to the 7-line subway station and Hudson Yards, and ease overcrowding at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The expansion of transit at the Javits Center would be part of an overall expansion initiative at the Javits Center that would include increased accessibility, expanding meeting room and exhibition space onto Pier 76 and the improvement of truck marshaling, loading and parking at the complex.

Once the Gateway tunnel projects are complete, the RPA recommended extending Gateway to Sunnyside Yards in Queens through two new East River tunnels combined with a new station at Third Avenue and 31st St. This expansion would allow for higher-capacity through-running train service at Penn Station that would connect passengers directly to the East Side, the RPA states.

While the RPA report did not provide project cost estimates, Wright in a conference call, estimated the new bus terminal in the basement of the Javits Center would cost $3 billion, while the new East River tunnels would likely involve $7 billion in investment, according to a report in Crain’s New York Business.

Finally and perhaps the most ambitious proposal is the RPA’s call for the construction of a new and expanded Penn Station complex including Moynihan Station and a “Penn South” expansion that when completed would create a unified station from 30th to 33rd streets and both sides of 8th Avenue. The plan would necessitate the relocation of Madison Square Garden. The new and expanded Penn Station would serve “as a true transit hub with direct and more frequent service between NJTransit and the Long Island Railroad and Metro North,” the RPA report noted.

“We are cheating the clock by relying on connections that are more than 100 years old. To prosper in this century, we need to make bold plans once again. Here is the way—now all we need is the will to do it,” the RPA stated in the report.

The report’s transit recommendations will be incorporated in the RPA’s fourth regional plan, which is scheduled to be released on Nov. 30.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth