Mass Transit Tunnel / Access to the Region’s Core

No new rail tracks have been added across the Hudson River since the existing Pennsylvania Station tunnels were completed in 1910. With the original tunnels operating at maximum capacity and ridership continuing to increase, New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have proposed construction of a new two-track tunnel to accommodate the region’s growing legion of commuters. The proposal became known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC).

Later renamed the Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel (T.H.E. Tunnel) and estimated to cost $7.6 billion, the commuter rail tunnel would more-than-double capacity (from 23 trains per hour to 48) across the Hudson and allow for transfer-free rides to Manhattan from all lines in New Jersey and New York’s Orange and Rockland counties. The tracks would terminate at new platforms, referred to as the ARC NY Penn Station Expansion, deep under 34th street that would allow transfer to the 6th, 7th, and 8th avenue subway lines, plus the PATH, Amtrak, LIRR, and NJ Transit trains at Penn Station.

Advocates highlight the job opportunities presented by the project, as well as predicted increases in both city revenue and property values along the direct lines. Critics acknowledge the need for a new tunnel, but contend that the current plan is too ambitious and will end up costing billions more than is projected. Some suggest scrapping the ARC NY Penn Station Expansion and instead running the trains to existing platforms at Penn Station, but the Port Authority maintains that infrastructure problems preclude this possibility. Additionally, a proposal to generate $1.25 billion in funding by raising tolls on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike has met strong resistance. Some advocates are concerned that the platforms accessing the tunnel are too deep and that the project lacks connectivity to other major projects underway on Manhattan’s West Side – such as the No. 7 line expansionMoynihan Station, and the Hudson Railyards. The Regional Plan Association of NY, NJ, and CT issued a report in March 2008 of how to improve ARC’s connectivity with Grand Central Station and various potential transportation projects that are slated to be complete in the coming decades.

Nevertheless, the project is moving forward with early engineering work already underway. In January 2009, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved an environmental assessment for the project and in August 2009, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $110 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would be directed towards constructing the tunnel and $20 million dollars would be allocated to build an underpass.

Though the project was not required to undergo New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), NJ Transit and the Port Authority submitted ARC to ULURP in order to encourage public review and participation. Following the City Planning Commission’s approval in late June of 2009, City Council also approved the project at the end of July 2009.

The ARC tunnel has again been renamed and is being referred to as the Mass Transit Tunnel, though it is still widely known by its original moniker ARC. Costs have risen, as expected. As of the official groundbreaking (on the Jersey side), on June 8, 2009, the $8.7 billion necessary for fully funding the project had been secured – including $3 billion in federal dollars and $130 million in federal economic stimulus money. The Federal Transit Administration pledged $200 million, of the $8.7 billion, in April 2010 to ensure construction could begin on a 1 mile stretch beneath the Palisades Mountain from North Bergen to Hoboken, New Jersey, during summer 2010.

It is unclear how the Mass Transit Tunnel will connect to key transit in Manhattan with uncertainty surrounding nearly all of the possibilities. The Tunnel is slated to feed into a terminus several blocks north of Penn Station and will likely be connected to other transit nodes later on in the future. The entire project is expected to be complete by 2017.

Last Updated: June 2, 2010

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