City-funded report says a 7-train extension to New Jersey is doable and necessary

A map of the proposed 7 train extension. (Parsons Brinckerhoff via nycedc.com)
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It would take a commuter just 16 minutes to get from Secaucus, N.J. to Grand Central Terminal, according to a city-commissioned report issued today finding that the extension of the 7 train into Jersey is "physically and operationally feasible."

Much of New York City's labor force commutes from New Jersey, and the trains and buses that transport them are nearing capacity, even as demand for mass transit between New Jersey and Manhattan is expected to balloon 38 percent by 2030.

"We desperately, really, really desperately, really do need trans-Hudson capacity," said Rich Barone, the director of transportation programs at the Regional Plan Association. "We have two tunnels and we have lots of traffic, and very little redundancy."

The rail tunnel called Access to the Region's Core, otherwise known as "ARC," was supposed to fix that problem. It was funded, and ground had already been broken on  it when, in 2010, Governor Chris Christie, citing projected cost overruns, killed what had been the best hope for boosting trans-Hudson rail capacity.

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"The lack of new transit investment is creating a serious and urgent threat to New York City’s economic competitiveness," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a statement issued this morning along with the study. "Extending the 7 train to Secaucus is a promising potential solution—it would leverage existing investments and be compatible with other proposed projects—and is deserving of serious consideration."

The idea goes something like this: a bistate partnership, working with the federal government, would somehow underwrite the extension of the 7 train from its soon-to-be-new terminus at 11th Avenue and 34th Street to an expanded Frank R. Lautenberg complex in Secaucus, complete with a new two-story bus garage.

The extension would accommodate an extra 128,000 commuters a day, according to the report.

The report doesn't include any cost estimates. Those will have to await the next step in the project's planning: an advanced feasibility study conducted in cooordination with the federal government.

Bloomberg, whose administration used a form of tax-increment financing to underwrite the extension of the 7 train to the far west side, first championed the idea of further extending the train to New Jersey in late 2011.

Last year, before he left the M.T.A. to run for mayor as a Republican, Joe Lhota said, "I can't see that happening in our lifetime."

The tunnel would be built south of the proposed right-of-way for Amtrak's Gateway project, another proposed solution to the region's trans-Hudson capacity problem.

"This is another option that could potentially prove complementary to Gateway, because they essentially serve different markets," said Barone.