Transit infrastructure linking NY, NJ needs overhaul as commutes continue to rise, report says

Predicting a continuing surge in cross-Hudson commutes, the Regional Plan Association warned that New York and New Jersey are not prepared to accommodate the growth and issued key solutions in a new report published Wednesday.

There’s been an increase of 70,000, or about 28 percent, of daily New Jersey commuters traveling into New York City over the past 25 years, thanks to the development and transit improvements in northern New Jersey, according to the report, titled “Crossing the Hudson.”

The influx has overtaxed surrounding infrastructure, and the association only expects that demand to rise in the coming decades. By 2040, the RPA anticipates 542,004 commuters traveling east over the Hudson, a 38 percent increase from 2015 numbers. But without roughly $30 billion in infrastructure investments over that time, that growth could be stifled, creating an economic “crisis point” for the entire region, according to RPA president Tom Wright.

“We’re living on borrowed time,” Wright said. “The links between New York and New Jersey are facing crises of capacity, connectivity and potential collapse.”

The report singles out the three primary facilities for that commute — the Hudson River Tunnel, Penn Station and Port Authority Bus Terminal — that Wright said “are well past their design life, are serving many more riders than they were designed to and have been experiencing more and more frequent and severe failures, which are only going to increase unless we figure out new ways to cross the river.”

The report, to be included in the association’s forthcoming Fourth Regional Plan, should be considered a conversational “reset” that must happen to prevent a catastrophe, according to Wright

First, Wright said two new Hudson River tunnels must be built — a $11.2 billion component of the Gateway Program. The current, two-tube tunnel under the Hudson that serves about 200,000 riders each day was badly damaged during Superstorm Sandy. If one tube fails before a new tunnel is built, capacity in the tunnel would be reduced by 75 percent, according to Amtrak.

As that project progresses, the Port Authority must relieve its obsolete bus terminal by building a new facility in the basement of the Javits Center, with an underground subway connection to the 7 train at Hudson Yards, according to the report. It borrows from a similar proposal from the Perkins Eastman planning firm — with the main difference being that the RPA recommends keeping and rehabilitating the current bus terminal for continued use over the next 20 to 30 years, during which bus traffic would be split between the two terminals.

The Port Authority declined to comment on the report. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

RPA also calls for the extension of the Hudson River tunnel project to create a “Gateway East.” The project entails expanding train tunnels underneath Manhattan from Penn Station to Sunnyside Yards in Queens, creating a route where a New Jersey Transit train could run all the way to Queens and Long Island at the cost of roughly $7 billion, according to RPA’s ballpark estimates.

“The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens are rapidly growing employment centers and so extending Gateway out to Sunnyside also provides much more connections out to Queens and would be beneficial there too,” said Wright, noting the connection could increase capacity under the Hudson River by 138 percent.

A significant portion of funding for these projects would have to come from the federal government — but the Trump administration has proposed cutting grant programs that fund transit projects, leaving Wright “very worried.”

“The concern, of course, is that none of that happens without federal funds and the government needs to step up with money,” Wright said.

In a statement, a U.S. Department of Transportation spokesperson pointed out that the administration has worked to expedite the recently issued draft environmental impact statement for the Hudson Tunnel project, a necessary prerequisite before construction could begin, but noted nationwide competition for funds.

“The department evaluates individual projects across America on their merits, as they become eligible for federal funding, to advance the country’s critical infrastructure needs,” the spokesperson said. “The New York and New Jersey projects that are in their earliest stages with neither the engineering completed nor funding plans in place are competing for federal funds with projects all over the country.”