Whether or not the feds will ever pony up the money needed to boost commuter-rail capacity between New Jersey and New York, the Port Authority is moving ahead with its own plans to expand connections between the states. The agency is planning to extend PATH service from downtown New York to Newark Liberty Airport.
The Port Authority is hosting two community meetings in Newark next week as part of a formal planning process for the agency’s proposal to extend PATH train service beyond its current terminus at Newark Penn Station, which would give New Yorkers and tourists a one-seat ride to the airport.
The proposed PATH extension — and the $1.7 billion in funds needed to complete it — were included in the 10-year, $32 billion capital plan that was approved by the Port Authority’s commissioners at the beginning of 2017. The current plans call for construction on the proposed extension to begin in 2020, and for the project to be completed by 2026.
Opening up the South Ward
While the proposal has faced some criticism, since it would use the agency’s limited resources to better link Wall Street with Newark Liberty, city officials in Newark offered strong support for the project during a series of public hearings that the agency held earlier this year. They said it would open up economic development in the city’s South Ward, which unlike other parts of the city, has little to no transportation options. They also suggested it could bring on the type of renaissance that’s been experienced in neighborhoods that surround PATH stations in Jersey City.
The proposal is also expected to reduce congestion inside Newark Penn Station, which is a major hub for NJ Transit, PATH, and Amtrak service.
According to the Port Authority’s scoping document], the proposed alignment of the extended PATH service calls for the laying of new tracks between Newark Penn Station and the Northeast Corridor’s existing station at Newark Liberty, running parallel, on the west side, to tracks that are used by both NJ Transit and Amtrak. The project also calls for the construction of a “multimodal station” between Frelinghuysen Avenue and the existing airport station, with new pathways planned for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“The new PATH station area would include bus- and taxi-staging areas, pick-up and drop-off lanes, and roadway and sidewalk connections to Frelinghuysen Avenue,” the document said. “Ticketing machines and PATH administrative, maintenance, and security spaces would be located within the station facility.”
In addition to opening up new transportation options for residents of Newark’s South Ward, the current design of the new PATH station would also allow for the construction of a new parking facility that would be able to be used by out-of-town commuters. This element of the project has been emphasized by the Port Authority as a feature that will allow for a much-needed expansion of trans-Hudson rail capacity for New Jersey residents.
That’s been a big issue ever since Gov. Chris Christie made the controversial decision to kill the long-planned Access-to-the-Region’s Core tunnel project, in 2010, over concerns about both the proposed alignment and the possibility that any cost overruns would primarily have to be covered by New Jersey taxpayers.
After scrapping ARC, Christie threw his support behind the broader Gateway infrastructure initiative, which also calls for a new tunnel to be built through a partnership between New Jersey, New York, the Port Authority, and the federal government. But after an initial finance plan for the up to $30 billion project was sketched out during former President Barack Obama’s tenure, Gateway’s future is now uncertain since President Donald Trump’s administration has yet to fully commit to funding the federal government’s share.
Under the Port Authority’s proposal to extend PATH service to Newark Liberty, motorists from surrounding communities would no longer have to rely on NJ Transit to get into New York because they would have the option of parking at the new facility, and then taking PATH trains directly into lower Manhattan.
“The PATH Extension would enhance the resilience of the regional transportation system by serving more commuters on a redundant trans-Hudson route,” the scoping document said.
Opportunity to review plans
Area residents and others who are interested in the project will be able to review all of the current plans during the meetings, which will be held on November 28 and 30. They will also be able to speak with members of the Port Authority’s staff about the project, and offer comments.
The bistate agency, meanwhile has released a detailed scoping document in advance of the meetings, showing the current alignment of the proposed PATH extension through Newark’s South Ward.
The scoping document also reviews why the Port Authority ultimately decided not to call for the building of an “intermediate station” on South Street in Newark that was once part of the planning discussions. Construction of a station in that location, near an existing rail yard, would require “significant property acquisition and displacement and relocation of businesses in a 20-block area,” the scoping document said. It would also require “significant schedule reductions and service slow-downs” on the Northeast Corridor and PATH lines, the document said.
The Port Authority’s first scoping meeting for the PATH extension project will be held on November 28, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Weequahic Park Sports Authority Community Center on Carmichael Drive in Newark. The second meeting will be held on November 30, also from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Garden State Ballroom at the Hilton Newark Penn Station on Raymond Boulevard. During both Port Authority meetings, officials will give a presentation on the project at 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
More information is available online.