Tag Archive for transportation

Make it Even Bigger

With yesterday’s announcement, Governor Cuomo brought a needed sense of urgency to the redevelopment of the Farley Post Office and Penn Station in Manhattan, a now nearly twenty year saga most notable for its total lack of progress.

It’s a great start, and an ambitious plan, but not ambitious enough. Here’s what should be on the table.

Evict Madison Square Garden. Back in 2013, the City Council wisely declined to grant MSG management a special permit to operate in perpetuity, and instead gave another ten years. The clock is ticking, and now it’s time for the Council to close ranks, dig in, and make it clear that MSG has to find another site, build it out, and vacate. No extensions.

Tear the Garden Down. It’s old, it’s outmoded, and the fact that a even Newark has a better-designed arena should be a regional embarrassment. It also sits on top of the busiest, most important train station in the country. No half measures here, no insertion of a glazed entry in place of the theater. Tear it all down and build a new, state-of-the art railway station that will serve the region for the next century or so.

Dump Moynihan Station. It’s a seductive repurposing of a building, a relic of 1970s design thinking that appeals only to the preservation/adaptive reuse crowd. For the rest of us, it’s a poorly conceived plan that would never be quite right. Not even Amtrak wanted any part of this one; even they didn’t want their waiting room a block away from the train platforms. If the project had been done twenty years or so ago, when first proposed, it would have been here already and we would have seen just how flawed the concept it. By living with it.

Move Madison Square Garden. Here’s a radical proposal: tear down the west half (or more) of the Farley Post Office and replace it with a new, up-to-date Madison Square Garden with all the amenities and features that a 21st century arena needs. Preserve the magnificent portico and principal façade on Eight Avenue and incorporate it into the new complex (rail and entertainment) in a creative way befitting the times we live in. As for the west half, yes, McKim, Mead & White designed it, but it’s a loading dock for heaven’s sake. Let’s preserve what’s worth saving and remake the rest in our contemporary image.

OK, how do we pay for all this? Fair question. The knee-jerk reaction these days seems to be to get a private sector developer onboard, give them a piece of the action, in this case the retail space, and turn them loose. The problem is, developers, like all business people, have their own agendas, which are usually not aligned with anything resembling the public good. The other problem is that this approach didn’t work with Related and Vornado in control of the Farley Post Office project, which is why they are out and a new RFP is coming. The alternative is Federal money, and lots of it; there’s a very strong argument that this is a national growth driver that deserves Federal money. Add to that a massive state bond financing, and a requirement that the private developer selected to build all this should be able to finance whatever piece of the action it gets upfront, and we should get there. You can read the NY Times article here http://nyti.ms/1THfP90.

Time to think really, really big. Maybe even huge.

Tunnel Rats

Yesterday, none other than the New York Times editorial board got on the train to urge the construction of new rail tunnels under the Hudson to alleviate the strain on the existing tunnels, which are around 100 years old and in dire need of replacement, or augmentation, or both. It’s about time.

Readers of Naked Urbanism already know the back story: how Chris Christie torpedoed the ARC project back in 2010 that would have addressed this now urgent situation. No matter what he said at the time, he was angling to be President, and used this issue to vault onto the national stage, playing as he was to the national Republican Party to burnish his credentials as a slash-and-burn rock ribbed conservative, the needs of his constituents be damned.

Clearly, the New York metro area contributes much more to the national economy than its size would suggest, and Republican politicians across the country would ever admit. But it’s true. We have more high-value, high income jobs here per capita than anywhere else, save perhaps the Bay Area/Silicon Valley, and I would suggest that our distribution is more diverse than theirs. So this is arguably both a local and a Federal matter.

Now that Christie’s performance to date in the Republican circus makes clear that his Presidential aspirations were far-fetched at best, and delusional at worst, it’s time to get back to reality and face the music. But how to pay for this?

Let’s start with how the ARC, a $10 billion project, was to be financed. The Federal government committed to 51% of the cost. The balance was to come from New Jersey Transit, the state of New Jersey (until Christie pulled the plug), and the Port Authority.

So if the Feds were ready to step up for 51% a few years back, there is no obvious reason why they wouldn’t do at least that much again. The revised estimate is now $20 billion, so there should be $10 billion right there. New Jersey will benefit tremendously from this project once it is done, and so should step up, too, for big money: According to a study done by the Regional Plan Association for the ARC, New Jersey can expect to see another $375 million in new tax revenue. If New Jersey contributed even a portion of that windfall, say $200 million, which would be recurring income, mind you, that would cover the debt service on nearly $4 billion in public finance at 5%. That would get us to $14 billion. New Jersey Transit should also take a piece, as should New York State, since New York will benefit from is a precedent to financing projects like this. At least on the back of the envelope, this job can be paid for, and we should start it immediately.

Chris Christie ceded the leadership on this one five years ago as he prepared for his quixotic quest on the backs of his constituents. Senators Menendez and Booker from New Jersey seem to absent on this one, Menendez possibly distracted by his indictment last April, and Booker likely wearing out his thumbs tweeting. So Chuck Schumer has rightly taken the lead here; the spectacle of spanking a deserving Republican a mere side benefit to this important project.

Christie on the Hudson?

Ignore his fanboy antics in fat-cat NFL skyboxes and blowing $12MM to $25MM of public money to run a special election three weeks before his own re-election to keep Cory Booker off the same ballot. Even set aside Bridgegate for the moment.

If not for Chris Christie, we would be five years into the construction of new rail tunnels under the Hudson River today. And the region, especially New Jersey, would be better off.

Earlier this week, equipment problems in the Hudson River tunnels caused severe disruptions of service and extensive delays for New Jersey commuters trying to get to their jobs in Manhattan. The delays were so bad that Anthony Foxx, the U. S. Secretary of Transportation, contacted Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, the governors of New York and New Jersey respectively, to stress the urgency of building new tunnel connections between Manhattan and New Jersey (also known as the U.S. mainland).

Problem is Christie torpedoed this project back in 2010 when it was called the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC). At the time, he loudly proclaimed his fiscal responsibility and determination not to stick the citizens of New Jersey with what he called “an open ended letter of credit” for cost overruns.  Never mind that the Government Accounting Office found that claim to be grossly incorrect.

It was just the thing to do to attract the favorable attention of the national Republican Party, also known as the “let’s shrink government at all costs, wreck the country in the name of ideological purity, and line our donors’ pockets Party”, and leap onto the national stage as a leading contender for President in 2016.

When Christie scuttled the ARC, he deprived New Jersey homeowners of an estimated $18 billion (yes, BILLION) in property value appreciation. That is wealth that would have also translated into an estimated $375 million in new municipal New Jersey tax revenues annually, according to a study done by the Regional Plan Association. Travel times would have been drastically shortened for at least half of those who commute from New Jersey to New York by rail. The project would also have created relatively long-term construction jobs, most of which would likely have been union jobs, known for solid wages and good benefits. Making it easier to get to New York would also likely have provided new economic opportunities for New Jersey residents in New York, especially significant since the median wage in New York is 60% (yes, sixty percent) higher in New York than it is in New Jersey.

It’s a lot to give up, unless you’re considering a run for the Presidency and you can trumpet your slash-and-burn approach to governing to the national Republican Party, break out onto the national stage, move several rungs up the ladder of presidential contenders, and get invited to give the keynote speech at the convention (where, incidentally you can mention yourself more than 7 times as often as the real nominee, whose name you don’t even utter until more than 16 minutes into your speech).

Add to that the benefits to you as a sitting governor. Take the $4 billion earmarked for the ARC, put it into the state Transportation Trust Fund (nearly insolvent at the time) and skip raising the state tax on gasoline.  If, along the way, you have to reimburse the Federal government $95 million for sunk costs, it’s a small price to pay, with, of course, public money.

Pretty compelling stuff provided that your own ambition comes before the interests of your constituents.

All that said ARC (now called Gateway) is back in the news. If anything, the benefits are greater than they were, and it is a must-do project for the region. While there are reasonable discussions to be had about how it should be financed, the sooner we resolve them and get started, the better for all of us.