Amtrak, New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit), Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) are all competing against each other for billions in existing discretionary Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding for their own priority transportation projects.
The same will be true under the $39 billion public transit and $66 billion rail portions of the $1.1 trillion Infrastructure bill. The problem is that most of these potential transportation projects that could potentially be funded under the new spending to be managed by the FTA or, in some cases the Federal Highway Administration, are years away from being shovel ready.
In many cases, projects are still in the planning state. Completion of any planning study to justify this project is only the first step. The cost estimates at this stage are just a guess.
In too many cases, there needs to be resolution of a number of other issues including completion of environmental reviews, design, engineering, easement rights, business relocation, land acquisition, agreements with owners of underground utilities including water, sewer, gas, electric, steam and cable, before being ready years later to commence construction. The scope of work might also include construction of tracks, sidings, signals, power, power substations, stations, commuter parking, land acquisition, business relocations, utility, water or sewer relocation agreements and local feeder bus services. They might need to purchase additional rolling stock and modifications to existing or construction of new rail yards for maintenance and storage of equipment.
You never know a project's final cost until construction contracts are awarded. This is followed by contract change orders due to unforeseen site conditions or last minute change in scope, completion of inspection and acceptance for all work to insure it conforms to contract specifications, receipt of maintenance manuals for all project components, release of retain age and final payment to the contractors. Cost estimates would have to be refined as progress proceeds beyond the planning and environmental phases into real and final design efforts.
History has shown that estimated costs for construction usually trend upwards as projects mature toward 100 percent final design. Progression of final design refines the detailed scope of work necessary to support construction. The anticipated final potential cost would never be known until completion. Costs would be further refined by award of construction contracts followed by any unforeseen site conditions and change orders to the base contracts during the course of construction. This will be followed by beneficial use, completion of inspection, acceptance and contract punch list items, receipt of asset maintenance plans, followed by release of retain age and final payment to the contractor(s).
Here are a number of projects being championed by various elected officials and transportation agencies; many will be looking for funding under the transportation portion of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure funding package:
- The $33 billion Gateway Tunnel project needs up to $16.5 billion from the FTA along with $8.25 billion from New York and the same amount from New Jersey to support a future FTA New Starts Full Funding Agreement. While there is funding in place for the $1.6 billion Portal Bridge, the balance of funding to pay for the $12 billion ($6 billion NY/NJ/ & $6 billion federal) two new Hudson River tunnels and rehabilitation of existing tunnels remains outstanding.
- Earlier this year New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new Penn Station South Station at a cost of $8 billion. It would consist of four new platforms and eight tracks with connections to the existing Penn Station and NYC Transit subway stations. A consultant has been hired to conduct a planning feasibility study. This is also part of his $16 billion NY Empire Station Complex proposal. .
- The 2nd Avenue Subway Phase 2 needs $6.9 billion. This project is counting on a FTA Full Funding grant agreement with up to $3 billion coming from Washington. The project completed NEPA last November with FTA issuing a formal environmental review finding. Receipt of the FTA FFGA in past years never took place.
- Reopening of the Penn Station Hilton Passageway requires several hundred million. The project would open the old Gimbels Passageway that connects Penn Station with the Herald Square Subway and PATH Stations complex. It was closed in the early 1980s due to security and safety issues. If reopened, it would provide connections via the 42nd, 53rd, 59th and 63rd street subway lines to midtown and the east side.
- The new Port Authority 42nd Street Manhattan Bus Terminal needs $10 billion. This project is still in the planning and environmental review phase. Only $3.5 of the estimated $10 billion cost is actually approved within the current 2016 - 2026 Port Authority Capital Plan. They are counting on future federal assistance to make up the shortfall.
- The Port Authority Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel requires $10 billion. This year the project celebrated its 30 year anniversary of being stuck in the planning and environmental review phase.
- The $2.05 billion La Guardia Air Train recently received a positive NEPA finding from FHWA. Most funding has been secured within the current Port Authority Capital Budget. However, this $36 billion 2016 - 2026 Ten Year Capital Plan faces a multi billion dollar shortfall.
- The $2 billion Kennedy Airport One Seat Ride has been the subject of previous planning studies going back decades.
- The plan to install Positive Train Control for $1 billion on the Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads was completed five years after the original 2015 completion date. The MTA needs to pay back a $1 billion FRA loan, which paid for this project.
- The LIRR estimates that it would cost $18 million per mile to extend electrification into existing diesel territory. Besides third rail, you also need a series of electrical substations for each branch. This might also involve land acquisition, business and utility relocation costs. There is also the costs for new high level platforms and additional parking at stations.
- The $3.6 billion LIRR electrification of Port Jefferson branch from Huntington to Port Jefferson originally discussed in the 1980s is still in the planning phase.
- The $1 billion LIRR electrification of Montauk line from Babylon to Speonk, $306 million LIRR electrification of Ronkonkoma line from Ronkonkoma to Yaphank and $720 million electrification of Oyster Bay line from East Williston to Oyster Bay are all still in the planning phase.
- A a new LIRR storage yard on the Port Jefferson branch for $400 million to support electric multiple unit MU cars is still in the planning phase.
- The $40 million for reopening of the LIRR Elmhurst Queens Station is in the environmental review phase. Construction funding programmed in the previous $32 billion 2015 - 2019 Five Year Capital Program was reduced by $36 million. These dollars were not restored under the $51 billion 2020 - 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. We can only guess if the MTA LIRR will include this project in the next 2025 - 2029 Five Year Capital Plan.
- NYC still needs to come up with $200 million to reimburse the MTA for NYC Fare Equity $2.75 LIRR or Metro North ride program. These dollars are needed to cover costs for Port Washington branch, other Queens and Metro North riders for full implementation. This would include access to both Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal for all Big Apple residents. Millions more are also needed to support a free transfer between the NYC Economic Development Corporation Private Ferry Operators program and NYC Transit bus or subway systems.
- Planning studies have been underway for 16 years to advance the $400 million Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit. The project is also in the environmental review process.
- The $100 million Suffolk County Route 110 Bus Rapid Transit (Amityville to Huntington) is in the planning, preliminary design and environmental review process.
- The $50 million for Suffolk County Nicolls Road Bus Rapid Transit (Stony Brook University to Patchogue) is in the planning, preliminary design and environmental review process.
- The Metro North West Bronx Penn Station Access via Amtrak Empire Corridor project is still in the planning stage. Preliminary estimated cost is $400 million.
- NYC DOT has been counting on a $97 million FTA Full Funding Grant Agreement for the $258 million Phase Two Woodhaven Blvd. Queens Select Bus Service for the past five years. It has yet to be approved in 2020. This is still under review by FTA.
- The $2.2 billion light rail between Jamaica and Long Island City on the old Lower Montauk LIRR branch in Queens has yet to advance beyond a final planning study which was completed two years ago.
- The $8 billion plus for restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway Queens branch has yet to advance beyond a final planning study released in 2019.
- The Triboro X Subway Express (new subway line connecting the Bronx, Queens & Brooklyn) would require several billion. The MTA has just initiated another new planning feasibility study this year. There is no public timetable for completion of the study.
- A new Main Street Flushing Queens Intermodal Bus Terminal connecting to the NYC Transit #7 subway would need $100 million. The MTA to date has not initiated a planning study funded under the 2015 - 2019 Five Year $32 billion capital plan for the $100 million Main Street Flushing Queens Intermodal Bus Terminal.
- The Woodhaven Blvd. Queens Atlantic Branch LIRR Station was closed in 1982. It is still in the planning phase. Reopening is estimated to cost $40 million.
- The $2.7 billion plus for the NYC Department of Economic Development Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront Street Car Connector is undergoing an environmental review. The project is counting on an FTA $1 billion or more Full Funding Grant Agreement to be matched by local sources. The MTA has not offered to sponsor a grant application, perform design and engineering, construct, maintain or operate this new transportation system. Neither NYC DOT or NYC EDC have any experience in managing advancement of or actually running a street car system.
- The study for the Utica Avenue Brooklyn NYC Transit subway extension was included in MTA 2015 - 2019 $32 billion Five Year Capital Plan finally began in 2020. Construction costs could be $5 billion.
- There is no current activity for the $800 million new NYC Transit #7 subway station at 10th Avenue and 41st. This was deleted from original $2.4 billion Hudson Yard#7 subway extension to save $500 million.
- The Red Hook Brooklyn subway extension from NYC Transit #1 subway line from the Rector Street downtown Manhattan station to Red Hook was proposed three years ago as a planning suggestion. There is no current activity to advance this project at a cost of $3.5 billion.
- The NYC Transit Staten Island North Shore Bus Rapid Transit $600 million project is in the planning and environmental review process. There is no funding programmed within the current $51 billion MTA 2020 - 2024 Five Year Capital Plan to support advancement of this project. Future $590 million in funding may be required for final design and engineering, land acquisition, business relocation, and actual construction.
- The Staten Island West Shore Bus Rapid Transit planning study is under way. Future funding of $1.485 billion may be required for preliminary and final design and engineering, land acquisition, business relocation, construction, purchase of vehicles along with a maintenance and storage facility
- NJ Transit has several billion dollars worth of other potential new system expansion projects in various phases of planning or environmental review. This is based upon their most recent future 10-Year Strategic and 5-Year Capital Plan. They include $619 million for a Third Track between Warwick and Suffern, $752 million for Leigh Third and Fourth Tracks and $474 million for Westbound Waterfront Connector which would provide increased capacity and operations flexibility. Previous NJT proposed system expansion projects included Northern Branch Corridor ($1.3 billion), Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex ($500 million), West Trenton Line ($400 million), Lackawanna Cutoff full build ($600 million) and Central NJ Route 1 Bus Rapid Transit ($500 million).
- The MTA has a similar 20 Year Capital Needs Plan for 2020 - 2040. The problem is that no one has ever seen it. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the MTA pledged that it would be released by December 2019. It is now 20 months overdue.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions of dollars in grants which provided funding for capital projects and programs to the NY MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC DOT, NJ Transit and more than 30 transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.