NY Officials, on Hudson River Tunnels: “It’s New Jersey, so Who Cares?”

On Sunday, NorthJersey.com published an opinion piece by Philip Mark Plotch that shed light on the political attitudes that have led to the precarious and deteriorating state of cross-Hudson transit. Plotch is well-placed to offer this insight: he was previously director of WTC Development for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a joint city-state public entity created to plan redevelopment of Lower Manhattan after the September 11 attacks. He is currently professor and director of the MPA program at St. Peter’s University, and author of Politics Across the Hudson, a book about the megaproject to rebuild the Tappan Zee bridge.

While writing his book, Plotch interviewed numerous New York state officials to better understand why they didn’t promote Access to the Region’s Core (ARC), the cross-Hudson tunnel project canceled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010. Their answers, Plotch says, “made my head spin.”

New York is now in the middle of building three other megaprojects – a Long Island Rail Road connection to Grand Central Terminal, the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, and the extension of the No. 7 subway lane to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The decision to pursue these projects dates back to meetings and negotiations that were held more than 15 years ago.

When I asked Maryann Gridley, Gov. George Pataki’s senior aide who helped prioritize these megaprojects, why a new Hudson River rail tunnel did not rise to the top of the list, she responded, “It’s New Jersey, so who cares?”

Plotch also recounts a conversation with a former New York State DOT Commissioner:

A former New York State Department of Transportation commissioner, who asked not to be named, explained to me: “If we said it’s a good project, then we would have had to help pay for it.” In 2010, New York officials were trying to generate support for a different Hudson River crossing. They wanted a rail line along a new Tappan Zee Bridge because it would stay within New York’s borders. Metro-North Railroad wanted to provide train service directly from Rockland and Orange counties into Manhattan without having to rely on NJ Transit to provide service on the Pascack Valley, Bergen and Main Lines. New York saw a new rail tunnel from New Jersey to Penn Station as a competitor for limited federal resources.

This candidness lays bare something extremely disheartening: when elected officials and their administrations care less about the success of the overall region than the parts of it inside political boundaries, everyone suffers.

NJ Transit and Amtrak service are critical to New York’s economy because Manhattan’s commercial success relies upon attracting workers from a wide geographical area. If New York does not expand train services, it will jeopardize its economic growth because the metropolitan area’s fastest-growing counties are west of the Hudson River.

Plotch notes that the proposed rail line over the Tappan Zee would have carried about one-tenth of the projected 250,000 weekday riders who would use new cross-Hudson tunnels to Penn Station. Because NY & NJ officials competed instead of cooperated, neither transit project has materialized: rail was cut from the Tappan Zee project by the Cuomo Administration, and the cross-Hudson tunnels haven’t moved off the drawing boards. Residents of NY & NJ are suffering the consequences, with nightmarish delays caused by infrastructure that’s older than the politicians responsible for maintaining it.

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