Correcting the Record on ARC
September 30th, 2010 by Jay Corbalis
New Jersey Future has long supported the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel project for a number of reasons. The tunnel will allow a doubling of NJ Transit capacity between New Jersey and New York, which is critical to long-term economic growth in New Jersey. From a smart-growth perspective, the ARC project presents enormous development and redevelopment opportunities around New Jersey train stations. Governor Christie has ordered a 30-day review of ARC while his administration studies the possibility of cost overruns. This is certainly a legitimate issue that deserves attention, but a number of misleading and inaccurate statements by critics of the project have clouded the recent debate. This edition of Future Facts seeks to set the record straight.
- The ARC tunnel project cannot connect directly to New York’s Penn Station, as some critics have insisted, because Penn Station has reached its capacity and there is no room to expand platform space.
- NJ Transit service cannot be extended directly to Grand Central Terminal because Manhattan’s principal north-south water tunnel blocks an east-west connection.
- Amtrak is not planning to build its own tunnel under the Hudson River in the foreseeable future; in fact, Amtrak is counting on the ARC tunnel to provide it with additional capacity for decades to come.
Penn Station is Full
The National Association of Railroad Passengers and other critics contend that the additional NJ Transit service made possible by the ARC tunnel project should tie directly into New York’s Penn Station, rather than terminate at a new “deep cavern station” more than 100 feet below 34th Street. NJ Transit would prefer this alignment, too — if it were logistically possible. Platform space at Penn Station has reached capacity, however, and there is no room to expand the station beyond its present footprint. (It should also be noted that the “deep cavern station” — which would be built one block away and would link to Penn Station by escalator — is no deeper below ground than many Manhattan subway and Washington, D.C. Metro stations.)
Grand Central is Inaccessible
Another popular but misleading argument holds that the ARC tunnel should connect directly to Grand Central Terminal to benefit people who work on Manhattan’s East Side. Again, such a connection would certainly be preferable — if New York City’s Water Tunnel No. 1 didn’t happen to be in the way. That 100-year-old tunnel, however, presents an insurmountable physical barrier to extending the tracks to Grand Central at this time. The new ARC terminus is designed to allow an eastward extension of rail service once New York City completes replacement of the water tunnel.
Amtrak Has No Immediate Tunnel Plans
The assertion that Amtrak is building a third tunnel that could coordinate with NJ Transit to meet both agencies’ needs is simply not grounded in reality. While Amtrak is in the very early stages of contemplating an expansion of its service along the Northeast Corridor, any additional tunnel is decades away. In fact, Amtrak is relying on the ARC tunnel to provide it with additional capacity in the near term while it makes plans for expansion later this century. In the meantime, demand for NJ Transit service already exceeds its rush-hour capacity, lending urgency to the need for a new trans-Hudson tunnel.
ARC Enjoys Overwhelming Support
A wide array of advocacy and trade associations supports the ARC tunnel project, including environmental, transportation, planning and research organizations. The Sierra Club recently issued a strong statement in support of the tunnel project, joining Environment New Jersey, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Alliance for Action, Regional Plan Association, PlanSmart NJ, New Jersey Future and a host of other supportive groups. It would be difficult to find a project with such a broad and deep base of support grounded in sound policy and a deep commitment to the long-term prosperity of New Jersey.
A Stark Choice: ARC Project or No Project
Considering the physical constraints confronting an infrastructure project of this magnitude in an already intensely developed region, the ARC tunnel project has emerged from two decades of intense study and exhaustive planning as the best possible solution for meeting New Jersey’s transit needs for the next generation. It has the added benefit of opening up opportunities for significant economic growth and development around New Jersey train stations. With an unprecedented $3 billion in federal funds, and another $3 billion from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, already committed to the project, the choice at this stage is not between the ARC tunnel as presently configured or some perfectly crafted alternative that was somehow overlooked or ignored during those 20 years of study and planning. It is between this project and no project — and that is really no choice at all.
You can also send a message to your elected representatives telling them you support the ARC tunnel project here.