Bergen Arches "Best Uses" Study / Draft Final Report / Sept. 2002
Tri-State Transportation CampaignTalking Points
Final Public Meeting (October 23, 2002)
The Study and Methodology. It's not a study. It's a very conceptual look at a few modal options of what to do with the Bergen Arches corridor. There are matrices and appendices in the report, but they are not technical work products. There are no traffic counts, trip volumes, no peak information, level of service (LOS) at intersections or along roadway segments, or origin-destination work. It's not clear there was a survey of any kind. They discuss congestion relief in Jersey City, but it's not clear what the criteria is, or how it could be otherwise achieved (ITS, signal timing, etc.). Parsons Brinckerhof presumably (hopefully) did good technical work to underpin the report, but it's not on the web, and the full report seems to be on the DOT web site under "studies." So where is it? We can't really analyze the work without seeing the technical work.
Even the background info is shockingly thin; Parsons appears to have taken it off the Journey to Work and Census and NJTPA model background data. It reports cargo container volumes (reads like a Port Authority/Chamber of Commerce report), but the information is not related in any way to the rail freight network or the possibility that Bayonne/MOTBY will become a major container port. Similarly, Hudson County is reported to have a rich bus network with many lines, but the reader is given absolutely no information about major origins and destinations, underserved areas, peak crowding (which could lead to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)) options, etc. It would be premature to conclude anything based on this "study." Only the major highways are discussed in detail.
What's Missing. The report failed to look, even in a fatal flaw way, at some obvious questions, like whether many acres of wetlands fill would be required to extend the LRT to the Meadowlands, which is where it is ostensibly routed as a destination (presumably to capture more ridership and make it a viable option). Another obvious failing is that the study didn't look at Bus Rapid Transit, one of the best new performing transit options. Rail freight's treatment is discussed elsewhere.
What is BRT? Bus Rapid Transit uses a dedicated running way (no carpools or other traffic allowed, so no enforcement or traffic problems); high-quality stations like rail stations; clean fuels; high frequency service (no consulting schedules); color-coded routes that are simple to understand and access, usually without any transfers; electronic fare collection before boarding; and advanced information and software technologies, so you know where the bus is and when it will arrive at your station and other information. Examples of current plans for BRT include the 4-mile Lane Transit District in Eugene OR; the Silver line in Boston, connecting Roxbury with downtown; other projects in use now are BRT along Wilshire, Venura and Whittier Blvds in LA, and in places around the globe (Paris, Curitiba). BRT is quicker and cheaper to implement than rail modes and is more cost-effective with lower ridership (i.e., less risky for transit provider, but still very attractive).
Weighting. Matrix of weighted values assigned to each category in the study for evaluation of options (accessibility and mobility 200 points; environmental "issues" 100 points; feasibility 70 points; and stakeholder interest 50 points) was arbitrary and sometimes backward, e.g., improvements in rail freight access to intermodal facilities got same 30 points as increase in truck accessibility to same facilities.
Result. The matrix seems designed/cooked to produce three mode options that are ranked very close together (number of points) so that the DOT commissioner/NJTransit director/Hudson County elected leaders, etc. can pick and choose what they want to pursue. It is like the Army Corps Harbor Navigation Study. Rather than prioritize the first channel that would be dredged and to which port on a cost-benefit basis, so as not to offend any terminal owners or alienate NYC/NY NJ interests, the Corps simply claimed that all of the channels needed to be dredged to all of the ports, leaving to the political/funding process the relative priority of projects.
Frankly, this is still better than past studies where benefits of highway access and mobility always outweighed other values and highway projects always came out on top, but it begs the question what the study accomplished other than the rejection of bike, pedestrian and rail freight options.
Study's Conclusions. The report concludes that two basic options score highest. Yet it concludes that three options are still in the mix for best uses of the Arches.
The highest scoring option at 1750 points is option M2. It would have 1 lane for bus/HOV-3 and one lane for general purpose traffic, in each direction, looping onto 11th and 18th Streets. Parsons calls this a mixed mode option. We call any HOV highway a disaster. After what happened with the HOV/bus lanes on I-80 and I-287, this option doesn't even pass the straight-face test. After just 9 months those HOV lanes were returned to general purpose traffic.
Next highest scoring option at 1616 points is T2, a Light Rail Transit line to the Meadowlands, with stops at the HBLRT system (probably Pavonia/Newport or Harsimus Cove), then St. Francis Hospital, Baldwin Ave., Secaucus Transfer Station, Harmon Cove, Route3/Meadowlands Parkway, and the Park-n-ride at Giants Stadium. T2 had a very low feasibility ranking (85) however, and this was not explained in the report, although elsewhere, the engineering and environmental impacts are mentioned.
T2 has the highest ridership of any transit option. The other LRT (T1, to Secaucus only) came in third at 1574 points but had a much higher feasibility ranking (145), perhaps because of fewer wetlands impacts? The low feasibility ranking ofT2 pulled it down significantly; it might have bested the HOV option had this score not been so low. Most other projects feasibility rankings were all over 200.
The consultant should explain in detail why the feasibility ranking for all LRT options were significantly discounted, and why LRT to the Meadowlands was more so. This should be studies further. The R3 and is the R1 roadway options both score 1510 points. R1 is a general purpose highway with two lanes for general traffic in both directions, aligning with 11th Street and 18th Streets. R3 would align with 18th Street alone. Alignment would be done as either a one-way pairing or a two-way roadway system. Not surprisingly, these projects were assigned high feasibility rankings of 215, as were all mixed/highway modes except the one containing the LRT. While the relatively low scores of R1 and R3 should help defeat any call for a highway, R1 remains in the mix as one of the best options. Why?
Population and Sustainable Congestion Relief. Given the 21% increase in population expected in the Hudson County area over the next 22 years (to 2025), which is almost twice as high as the general population increase expected in the NJTPA region during that same period, paving four lanes in the Arches for inefficient general purpose traffic (trucks and mostly SOV cars) would not be a sustainable congestion relief plan. The lanes would fill up with traffic almost immediately and offer no real or long-lasting congestion relief, but rather would attract even more autos to the Jersey City waterfront and neighborhoods.
A Priority Bus Facility (express bus lane) was studied, but few details are given about it. It scored low (1313), removed little traffic and produced little congestion relief in downtown Jersey City. It's not BRT.
Rail Freight. Using this corridor as a rail freight connection to various port terminals and industrial facilities located along the Jersey City and Bayonne waterfront was rejected with one of the lowest overall scores and found not to be a viable alternative. The Class 1 railroads apparently claimed that the connection would add very little capacity or routing flexibility because it was determined that it would use the Bergen Tunnel route. It would be available for double-stack service, suing the Northern Branch line alignment west of the Palisades to the Nat'l Docks Secondary line located at the eastern foot of the Palisades, with two tracks.
We are disappointed with the result and think it should be re-examined. Right now, there is very limited track capacity (over a lift bridge) out of MOTBY. If MOTBY is to becomes a major container port-as it should, since it has a natural deepwater berthing area-then Bayonne needs the equivalent of an Alameda rail freight corridor to get the container moved out to yards farther west. But NJDOT continues to pursue Portway, a truck highway that can only attract more trucks to Hudson County, and highway interests continue to pursue the Arches and Secaucus Connector as a highway to the Turnpike. Both will simply attract more trucks to the region. There has to be more of an emphasis on rail freight movement of containers, and a more balanced approach.
We remain unpersuaded that a rail freight corridor would not be wise, even if it is viewed as a longer-term option. MOTBY is the preferred deepwater containership port for the region. It's close to the deep Hudson River channel and requires little dredging and has a slow silt-in rate. It provides a clear shot to the open Atlantic, without any bridge clearance problems. Dredging to Port Newark is a a much longer distance, and requires blasting for a portion of the channel. Port Newark will require much higher channel maintenance as well. Development of Bayonne as a supership port will require significant landside infrastructure improvements as each ship that loads or discharges will result in thousands of containers that have to be transported through the region. Given a port that can potentially handle two or more ships, and there is real danger of choking the highways and local streets on the Hudson County peninsula. It's unrealistic to assume that most of this container traffic will end up on the Turnpike extension/I-78 or Routes 1/9. And we wouldn't want it to do so.
Further, even the construction of Portway to get the containers to existing rail yards will not be an effective solution without more rail freight capacity, since the trucks have to travel over the same roads to get to Portway. Existing rail access to Bayonne is essentially limited to the two-track CSX movable lift bridge over Newark Bay. While this rail route may be adequate in the short term, it limits long term growth and development of the deepwater port at Bayonne. Some interests would like to develop Bayonne as a truck port, since it would then justify a road thru the Arches to the NJ Turnpike, part of which (Secaucus Connector) is already being planned.
Development of the Bergen Arches as a two track, double-stack container route into MOTBY would provide enough rail access to the port to support full development. Essentially, the rail route would serve as the east coast version of the Alameda Corridor, and would provide the capability to handle most of the arriving cargo with on-dock rail. It gets the trucks off the highways and streets. WE see no middle ground here; if there is no new rail access for double stacks to Bayonne, the towns of Bayonne and Jersey City (and the NJ Turnpike extension/I-78) get flooded with trucks. And ship discharges don't care about rush hours. If we build the new Alameda Corridor, the region gets a competitive supership port with less impact on road congestion.
Class I railroad skepticism about the freight route thru the Arches indicates more a commitment to their current capital plans than a long-term vision and commitment to regional traffic solutions. The Class 1s have invested in their own infrastructure improvements and want things to operate as they planned. They'd like to maximize use of their systems. That's understandable. The Arches would change operations into and out of Bayonne and may underutilize some infrastructure they have already committed to; it's a valid concern.
But how we run the Port of New York and New Jersey, and how it affects traffic and congestion in the region, is a decision to be made by the region's elected representatives. The freight railroads should have a voice, but should NOT be calling the shots.
In sum, we support sustainable congestion relief plans for moving goods and/or people, including a rail freight line, a light rail line to the Meadowlands, and in the near term, closer investigation of bus rapid transit, in accordance with the definition above. A choice must be made based on more complete examination of the options. We oppose any use of the Bergen Arches and Secaucus Connector for general purpose traffic, or an HOV route.