Like a phoenix from the ashes, the death of the ARC Tunnel (Access to the Regions Core) has lead to a new idea which has ignited people’s imaginations: extending the 7 Line to Secaucus, NJ.
A bit of back story for the uninitiated: The ARC Tunnel has been in the works for a good two decades. As more and more commuters flow in and out of Manhattan from New Jersey every year the century old Penn Central tunnels from Secaucus into Manhattan began to reach their maximum capacity. To alleviate this planners have been working on building a new set of tunnels under the Hudson River which would allow trains that would normally need to terminate in Hoboken to reach Manhattan. Much noise had been made about the final plan, which would have sent trains through Secaucus Junction station twice and dug a massive new train terminal under Macy’s department store (meaning that the new tunnels would not at any point feed into the existing Penn Station). The price tag was initially set at $8.7 billion and construction, what had started, was to last for 8 years. Most people distrusted these numbers.
When Gov Chris Christie was elected in 2009 one of the first things he took aim at was New Jersey’s bloated, unbalanced budget. Knowing that the state could not afford the projected cost overruns, Christie killed the project in October 2010. In doing so he sent back $3 billion of Federal funds to Washington which had been allocated for the project.
Days later an idea popped it’s head out from the rubble, an idea which at any other time would have never been taken seriously: extend the 7 Line to Secaucus instead. In my futureNYCSubway post about cross-Hudson subways I mentioned that besides the engineering challenges of tunneling under the Hudson River were political ones. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority runs the New York City Subway (among other things) but their jurisdiction ends at the border. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has authority over all bridges and tunnels which cross the border in the New York-New Jersey area. Because of this the prospect of extending the NYC Subway into another jurisdiction would add so many more levels of bureaucracy that most planners wouldn’t even consider proposing the idea. But in strange times like this when a project which was all but certain is dead and gone, people begin to think outside the box.
What makes the idea of extending the 7 Line into New Jersey interesting is that the 7 Line extension from Times Sq to the Jacob Javits Center is already well under construction and paid for. The equipment is already there, working day and night, and could theoretically just keep digging. But where, exactly, would the new line go? The proposal is so new that no maps, other than a rough sketch, have been made. Even my plan to extend the 7 Line into New Jersey had the line run through Hoboken and Jersey City instead of Secaucus.
Digging to Secaucus makes more sense than going to Jersey City. Secaucus is already a giant transfer station for trains that don’t go into Manhattan. Terminating the subway there would allow for commuters to connect to other subway lines and to Grand Central Terminal, something the original ARC plan would have not reached (though there were ideas to connect the new tunnel to the also-under construction East Side Access through Grand Central). The plan, at least as I’ve imagined it, would continue the 7 Line from W 25th St (where the current tunnels under construction stop) under the Hudson River to a point under 9th St in Hoboken, NJ with a station at Washington Ave. The tunnel continues west under 9th St with a station at the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station at 9th St. The tunnel dives into the hard rock of the Palisades and turns north under Washington Park up to Secaucus Rd with a station serving Summit Ave. Following Secaucus Rd the line comes to the surface via a new portal near Tonnelle Ave, past which a new park-and-ride facility will be built. From here the line runs along an embankment to the Secaucus Junction station.
Leaving the extension here would still be immensely helpful for commuters. But what no one has mentioned yet is that from Secaucus it would be a straight shot to Newark-Liberty Airport. The 7 Line already serves LaGuardia Airport via a shuttle bus and planners have, for years, imagined ways to connect the 3 major airports in the region via mass transit. The 7 Line would whisk travelers from the airport to Times Sq, Midtown, Grand Central, and would connect to most of the other subway lines; The plan is so simple and perfect. A traveler needing to switch from JFK to Newark-Liberty could take the Queens Blvd express E train to Times Sq and change for the 7 to Newark-Liberty without having to pay for a second train at Penn Station (as one would have to do presently). On my map I have additional stations at Harrison, Newark Penn Station, and Ironsides. A direct line into Midtown Manhattan would do wonders for the economy of the city of Newark.
A major incentive to building the 7 Line extension to Secaucus is that it would cost half that of the ARC tunnel since most of the major infrastructure in Manhattan is already built. No real numbers have been studied yet and the route planned here is just as much hearsay as any other. But the potential of congestion relief and economic growth for both New York and New Jersey have captured the imaginations of both states. The unfortunate reality, though, is that because New Jersey gave it’s money back to the Federal government any new project will take many years of review to actually get off the ground. While the tunnel-boring machines are still turning in Manhattan they won’t magically keep going under the Hudson.