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Staten Island needs N.J. tunnel money

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Location: Staten Island

PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2010 1:35 pm    Post subject: Staten Island needs N.J. tunnel money
From Wed Oct 13, 2010 3:00 am to Mon Oct 18, 2010 2:59 am (included)
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Staten Island needs N.J. tunnel money: The borough, plagued by traffic, deserves better transit
By Sam Schwartz

Thursday, October 14th 2010, 4:00 AM

If New Jersey doesn't want the Access to the Region's Core (ARC) tunnel, the multibillion-dollar transit project that Gov. Chris Christie just said he's likely to cancel, I say give it to Staten Island.

I mean at the very least, give Staten Island the equivalent amount of money for transit improvements - and quite possibly build an actual tunnel between the borough and the rest of the city.

Let me explain.

In a meeting last week with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Rep. Michael McMahon of Staten Island, Community Board 1 member Leticia Remauro said, "Take a look at us and see what you can do here. See what fast ferry pilot program or a train over a bridge or a train under a tunnel. Something like that."

Her remarks brought to mind the invitation I have on the wall in my office for the groundbreaking for "The Brooklyn-Richmond Freight and Passenger Tunnel" linking Staten Island and Brooklyn. The date on the invite is 1923. If we start now, we can open the subway in time for the centennial of the groundbreaking!

But seriously, intelligently investing this funding in Staten Island, our most neglected borough in terms of transit, would finally level the playing field for the only borough without a subway line - but with terrible traffic from end to end.

Staten Island may be New York's least populous borough, but with 500,000 residents, it would be the 35th largest city in America - ahead of Cleveland, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and many other major cities with their own rail transit systems. And just imagine what might happen to it if it were serviced by efficient transit-oriented development along a rail line to Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan. I venture to say it could break into the top 20 by mid-century.

The $8.7 billion ARC tunnel - which Christie said could ultimately wind up costing $11-billion to $14 billion - was to be financed with $3 billion from the federal government, $3 billion from the Port Authority and $2.7 billion from New Jersey. Most of the Port Authority and Jersey money was to come from tolls.

Well, no place on Earth pays more in tolls than people traveling to Staten Island. At the Verrazano Bridge, cash tolls are $11 ($9.14 when you use E-ZPass) and soon to be $12. The three New Jersey to Staten Island bridges - the Goethals, Bayonne and Outerbridge - charge $8 cash ($6 when you use E-ZPass off-peak). The annual revenue generated by these four bridges is $550 million and growing.

I venture to say the majority of the money collected at these bridges goes to transit projects outside Staten Island or to New Jersey. Conservatively, we should be able to raise $5 billion just by keeping the majority of this money for a Staten Island tunnel. Add $3 billion from the feds, $2 billion from a combination of New York State, the MTA and Port Authority - and you've got a $10 billion nest egg.

What specifically could Staten Island do with it? Remauro had it right: Look at reviving the once-imagined 1923 tunnel from Staten Island to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, linking up with the R train tracks. Another possibility is to use the existing Staten Island Railway and branch off at Clifton. Then, tunnel under New York Bay to Manhattan to the future Second Avenue subway stop at Hanover Square (imagine: "The Bronx is up and Tottenville is down").

Alternatively, link the island via light rail across the Verrazano Bridge and through the Gowanus Expressway, or perhaps through a subway tunnel - there are six Brooklyn-Manhattan tunnels - or across the Brooklyn Bridge or the Manhattan Bridge upper roadway.

In any event, there's a lot we can do with $10 billion with just a little imagination and a lot of construction.

New York - and its neglected fifth borough - are waiting.

Schwartz is the Daily News' "Gridlock Sam" columnist.
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