Transportation

New Investments in Infrastructure Needed to Expand Trans-Hudson Crossings

The construction of Amtrak’s box tunnel under the Hudson Yards.

May 20, 2015
By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey’s director of planning recently said at a transportation conference in Lower Manhattan that mass transit use across the Hudson River crossings into Manhattan have allowed the city to accommodate 400,000 more people, but all that is at stake without major new investments in a rail tunnel and bus infrastructure.

Andrew Lynn, Director, Planning & Regional Development at the Port Authority, speaking at the Trans-Hudson Summit (www.transhudsonsummit.com), described how the region has been able to accommodate and move more people without building out new infrastructure into Manhattan.

“Over the last 50 years, we have not laid a single lane of roadway or single track of rail across the waterways into Manhattan, yet remarkably we’ve managed to move an additional 400,000 a day back and forth across the river. This is a remarkable achievement by all the agencies involved, as well as the private sector,” said Lynn.

He attributed this accommodation to increasing mass transit use.

“The way it has been done is by mass transit. Auto and truck traffic has maintained relative stability over this time (50 years), but transit’s share has grown quite significantly. For example, back in 1980, transit represented 62 percent of trips; now it’s 77 percent, and appears it will continue to grow."

He noted that the change in the interstate transportation system to more transit and fewer autos isn’t something that happened by accident.

“There was over an extended period of time—decades—a concerted effort by NJ Transit, the Port Authority, bus carriers, NY Waterway and the MTA and city to make this transition to more transit. Not only was it not by accident, but also it was really not by choice because we couldn’t have moved an additional 400,000 without the shift to transit,” said Lynn.

Lynn credited the shift to mass transit to a multi-agency sustained effort on a variety of improvements, such as the introduction of express bus lanes, restoration of passenger ferry service, expansion of commuter rail, Northeast Corridor improvements by Amtrak and the introduction of new buses with more seats, longer trains and double decker rail cars that increase capacity.

While Lynn has said all these investments and outcomes are impressive, the real question is whether the region can sustain this growth in mass transit without significant investments in infrastructure. He pointed to a particular phenomenon on the trans-Hudson crossings that include the Staten Island bridge crossings to New Jersey.

“For the first time ever for eight straight years there have been eight successive declines in the number of cars on Port Authority crossings, for an overall 11 percent drop in traffic. What’s remarkable about this is not only the drop, but that it has occurred in a period when there’s largely been economic growth in the region. Essentially, this drop has brought auto traffic on crossings back to where it was in 1986. This seems to be a signal that transit is going to be key to our future,” Lynn said. 

Lynn said that a new trans-Hudson passenger rail tunnel and bus terminal must be built to keep up with projected demand and growth.

“The forecasts for growth is looking like 30 to 50 percent or greater in the next 25 years. So it will be very challenging and probably impossible to meet and sustain that kind of growth without major new investments in a rail tunnel and bus infrastructure.”

While the Port Authority’s chairman John Degnan recently announced that the agency is committed to building a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel that would also benefit Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route, Lynn said the agency’s biggest challenge is the construction of a new bus terminal.

“The scope of the challenge is daunting. We have 230,00 passengers daily today; we’re anticipating by 2040 a one hundred thousand-person-a-day increase—that means having to accommodate 42,000 passengers an hour in the PM peak period and 1,000 buses. The actual construction of this is extremely difficult because we have to keep the current terminal operating at the same time we’re replacing it, and we need to enlarge it to accommodate up to 30 to 50 percent more people,” Lynn said. “This all translates to a 5-level facility of terminals, ramps, staging and parking covering 3 ½ city blocks. The estimated cost for accommodating all this demand in Manhattan is between $7.5 and $10.5 billion. We’re looking at whether we can do this through other means [a new terminal in New Jersey] because it doesn’t make sense to have all this bus activity in Manhattan. But in any event we will have to replace what we have today with some new bus terminal.”

With 570,000 interstate commuters going across the Hudson and Staten Island bridges to work in New York and New Jersey who collectively earn $50 billion in annual wages, Lynn said that the region has a lot at stake.

@marcbuss marc@laborpress.org

May 20, 2015

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