RPA Plan Looks to Address Region’s Housing, Infrastructure Needs

John Jordan | December 2017

NEW YORK CITY—The Regional Plan Association in its fourth regional plan says some residents of the New York City metro region are not enjoying the benefits of the robust NYC economy due in large part to the lack of investment in the area’s infrastructure, housing and quality of life.

In its 373-page report released on Nov. 30th, the RPA said the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region needs to chart a new course to foster economic and job growth as well as prepare for the future effects of climate change.

Some of its 61 recommendations involve institutional changes to facilitate transportation improvements. The RPA recommends Gov. Andrew Cuomo establish a new Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corp. to overhaul and modernize the subway system in the next 15 years. The agency also believes that to expedite subway improvements the MTA should consider ending weeknight late night service, which carries a fraction of the passengers of weekend nights, and replacing it with buses to allow for longer periods for maintenance.

The plan also recommends eight expansion projects to bring the subway into neighborhoods with densities to support fixed rail transit, particularly low-income areas where residents depend on public transportation.

“The region may look great from Fifth Avenue, but in many neighborhoods across the five boroughs, and in places like Paterson (NJ), Bridgeport (CT), and Hempstead (NY), it doesn’t feel that way. Commutes are longer than ever, housing more expensive, and climate change is exposing real long-term vulnerabilities,” said Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association. “The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.”

“Today, too often, governments think and plan in election cycles,” said RPA chairman Scott Rechler, who also serves as chairman and CEO of RXR Realty. “The Fourth Regional Plan looks out across a generation and challenges our region’s leaders to think beyond politics, to take a long-range view that is sorely needed to be able to make the types of projects and investments that will help us retain our place as one of the most dynamic, inviting and successful regions in the world.”

Other transportation-related recommendations include depoliticizing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Port Authority should also generate more revenue from the investments it makes with value capture strategies, and create independent entities to manage the daily operations of its airports, ports, bus terminal, PATH, bridges and tunnels so the Port Authority could focus on its function as an infrastructure bank to finance large-scale projects across the region, according to the agency.

RPA also recommends expanding Trans-Hudson capacity and regional connectivity beginning with building the Gateway project and extending it to Queens. RPA’s rail proposals also involve recommended rail improvements throughout the transit system that it states will comfortably serve a million more commuters in 2040.

To help pay for the massive transit improvements, the RPA recommends imposing tolls on the four East River bridges, charging tolls on all major roads (including interstate-designated highways) and ultimately instituting vehicles miles traveled or miles-based user fees.

The RPA stated that while the region has gained 1.8 million jobs over the past 25 years, that job growth has failed to lift the standard of living for many in the region over that time. It warns that if current policies are in place it will likely only enjoy half that job growth in the next quarter century.

“Yet, if we change course—if we can provide the housing, commercial space and infrastructure that is needed for all those who want to live here—the region could gain nearly 2 million additional jobs by 2040,” the RPA report stated. “More importantly, this growth could take place in a way that broadly shares prosperity and well-being, overcomes long-standing inequities, promotes a sustainable environment and prepares the region for climate change.”

The RPA stated there is an urgent need to create more affordable housing in this high cost region. It recommends municipalities in the region should update zoning to facilitate more housing production, especially adjacent to transit. Some changes could include allowing accessory dwellings, which could create 300,000 new units region-wide without any new construction.

“Redeveloping underutilized parking lots near rail stations alone would yield a quarter million new homes for the region,” the RPA noted in its regional plan.

Other RPA recommendations include ensuring all municipalities allow multi-family developments near transit stations and the ability to develop existing parking lots that would yield a quarter of a million new homes in walkable, mixed-income communities near transit.

In respect to climate change, the RPA in its report stated, “Today, more than 1 million people and 650,000 jobs are at risk from flooding, along with critical infrastructure such as power plants, rail yards, and water-treatment facilities. By 2050, nearly 2 million people and 1 million jobs would be threatened. We must adapt our coastal communities and, in some cases, transition away from the most endangered areas.”

To combat what it calls as the current bureaucracy and patchwork funding, the RPA believes New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey should create a Regional Coastal Commission that can take a long-range, multi-jurisdictional, and science-based approach to managing coastal adaptation. The RPA also recommends the three states should simultaneously establish new Climate Adaptation Trust Funds to provide a dedicated stream of revenue for adaptation projects.

“This region should work for its people, but right now it doesn’t. All too often it seems we have to settle, to accept high costs, poor service, unresponsive institutions. But this doesn’t have to be the case,” said Rohit T. Aggarwala, chair of the Committee on the Fourth Regional Plan. “The Fourth Plan offers a realistic agenda for making this region work for us all. We can make housing affordable to all income levels, bring our transit system and roads into the 21st century, and embracing nature even as the climate is changing. We can create the 21st-century institutions we need to deliver 21st-century solutions.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth