ARC Tunnel: The Feature Film

We’re a few weeks late to the game on this, but last month New Jersey Transit launched a new Web site and accompanying promotional video to hype its proposed multibillion-dollar set of rail tunnels under the Hudson River, known as the Access to the Region’s Core project.

With ominous music playing in the background, a deep-voiced narrator warns, “Our mobility is at risk. Today’s transportation system is at the breaking point.”

Worth a quick look, the video spells out some of the regional transportation problems that exist today, and offers ARC as the solution. The tunnel would connect more trains from New Jersey into a new set of tracks and platforms just north of Penn Station. It would not connect to existing tracks in Manhattan, and as a result, there is now talk of a long-term plan to build a third passenger rail tunnel, this one aimed at Amtrak.

The tunnel is awaiting an infusion of funds from the federal government to the tune of $3 billion. Between New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority, $4.5 billion has been committed locally to the project, with the rest expected to come from the Federal Transit Administration.

There’s one problem: the FTA’s pot of money for new transit projects has basically run dry, and officials are pessimistic that it will be replenished before the next five-year federal transportation bill is passed, which may not happen until at least late 2009 or 2010. (More on ARC’s funding issues in an article we wrote back in July.)

Then there’s the issue of the total price tag. The tunnel right now is slated to cost more than $7 billion. But the longer one waits, the more it will cost as prices rise; and the Port Authority’s executive director last month said that the current cost estimate “will not be maintained.”

“This will require a significant effort down in Washington,” the director, Chris Ward, said at a New York Law School breakfast. “Currently this project is forecasted at about $7.25 billion. As we’re seeing throughout the region, those prices will not be maintained, and we’ll need more funding on it.”

ARC Tunnel: The Feature Film