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ARC Tunnel: The Best Solution in an Imperfect World

New Jersey Future Op-Ed ButtonThe Record, Sept. 25, 2010


It’s the ARC tunnel or nothing at all.

Why are we so intent on making the perfect the enemy of the good?

The Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project has been subject to a lot of criticism lately — most of it directed at particular elements of the project that detractors see as falling somewhere short of perfection. Yet considering the extremely difficult physical constraints an infrastructure project of this magnitude has to overcome in an already intensely developed region, the ARC tunnel has emerged from 20 years of exhaustive study as the best possible solution for meeting the transportation needs of the region for the next generation. 

Is it a perfect project? No. But we don’t live in a perfect world.

In a perfect world, there would be room to add platforms at New York’s Penn Station so that both NJ Transit and Amtrak could simultaneously add service on the Northeast Corridor rail line — but there isn’t.

In a perfect world, New York City’s Water Tunnel No. 1 would not run north-south directly below Sixth Avenue, preventing NJ Transit from extending service to Grand Central Station and Manhattan’s East Side — but it does.

In a perfect world, the geology beneath the Hudson River would allow the new ARC tunnel to be constructed so that its terminus would be only steps below ground level instead of a deeper elevation equivalent to several Washington, D.C., Metro stations and three Manhattan subway stations — but it doesn’t.

In a perfect world, delaying the ARC tunnel project wouldn’t run up its cost, nor would it jeopardize the unprecedented commitment of $3 billion in federal funds and another $3 billion from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — but it will.

In a perfect world, there would be other, cheaper ways to meet the growing demand for transit service between New Jersey and New York that is a lifeline for tens of thousands of New Jersey residents — but there aren’t.

Logical choice

For the last two decades, the issue of how New Jersey can best meet its future transportation needs has been studied by economists and geologists, planners and engineers, transportation and environmental experts, bureaucrats and elected officials at the local, state, regional and federal levels. With NJ Transit already operating at capacity, and with demand expected to continue rising far into the future, building a new rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York was logically seen as the only feasible solution.

The ARC tunnel project, the consensus solution that emerged from those 20 years of study, represents the best real-world prescription for ensuring the robust health of the region’s economic heart by keeping its increasingly stressed transportation arteries from clogging up. And it has the added benefit of strengthening one of those arteries by opening up opportunities for significant economic growth and development around New Jersey train stations.

Given the transportation needs of the region, and the physical constraints within which this tunnel must be built, this is an exemplary project. The choice here is not between the ARC project as presently constituted and some perfectly crafted alternative that was somehow overlooked or ignored during the 20 years of intense study that led to its current configuration. It is between this project and no project — and that is really no choice at all.

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