Quick Note: New Jersey Highway Widening Alternatives

The Effective Transit Alliance just put out a proposal for how New Jersey can better spend the $10 billion that it is currently planning on spending on highway widening.

The highway widening in question is a simple project, and yet it costs $10.7 billion for around 13 km. I’m unaware of European road tunnels that are this expensive, and yet the widening is entirely above-ground. It’s not even good as a road project – it doesn’t resolve the real bottleneck across the Hudson, which requires rail anyway. It turns out that even at costs that New Jersey Transit thinks it can deliver, there’s a lot that can be done for $10.7 billion:

Source: Robert Hale at ETA

I contributed to this project, but not much, just some sanity checks on costs; other ETA members who I will credit on request did the heavy pulling of coming up with a good project list and prioritizing them even at New Jersey costs, which are a large multiple of normal costs for rail as well as for highways. I encourage everyone to read and share the full report, linked above; we worked on it in conjunction with some other New Jersey environmental organizations, which supplied some priorities for things we are less familiar with than public transit technicalities like bike lane priorities.


  1. adirondacker12800

    The highway widening in question is a simple project, and yet it costs $10.7 billion for around 13 km.
    They keep building container docks in Bayonne. People have to stop buying stuff that arrives by container. That probably won’t happen. Widening between, across Newark Bay, to the containers probably makes sense. Anything east of that, there’s no place for the cars to go. Unless you want to start tearing down condos and office building on either side of the Hudson for more parking.

    • Eric2

      Sounds like you’ve never heard of the term “induced demand”. If more docks are getting built and more trucks are using the turnpike, that just means fewer cars are going to use the turnpike because they can’t tolerate the traffic delays. (Either that, or they raise the tolls which equally deters car travel while simultaneously funding the government.) Either way, no extra road lanes need to be built.

      • Henry Miller

        What is your alternative for those cars?

        If induced demand makes any difference it is a sign that your city is not serving people who would go someplace if only it wasn’t so painful. If you have no place you want to be, then there is plenty of isolated land in Alaska to live on. Cities are about all the different things you can get done in them.

        Note that the alternative doesn’t have to be more lanes elsewhere. But it needs to be at least as good as a car, which is both fast and frequent in many cases. If you can’t offer a better than that (which rail should be able to do just because it is so much cheaper for the number of people it can handle) then you can’t talk about induced demand.

        • Eric2

          Just look at the map in this post, and you can see all the various transit routes which duplicate the coverage of this road segment.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s hard to get 40 foot containers onto the trolley car. Even 20 foot containers,

    • Astro

      In no world, regardless of how many trucks must go down the highway once it’s done, should expanding an existing highway cost almost $1 billion/km. A road would have to be paved with gold, certified by unicorns, and tunneled through the base of Mount Everest to even approach justifying that cost. Whatever takings are attached to the current highway proposal (which is terrible and should be substituted with rail investment), that alone is a crime against everyone who has to foot the bill.

      • adirondacker12800

        They already have rail service, freight and passenger. The road is going to be financed with tolls.

        • Astro

          That just makes the high cost even dumber? If you built a cheaper road, more of the toll money is pure profit or useable for maintenance.

          It’s the act of building a road at a illogically high cost I’m taking issue with here. The who, the what, and the where is important, but the underlying project expense to *someone* is dumb as hell here.

  2. Matthew Hutton

    In inflation adjusted terms the brand new M40 to Birmingham cost ~£20m/mile – or I guess £12m/km. So for 13km of new M40 that’s like ~£160m or perhaps $300m.

    And the figures I have include some widening as well, which I’ve assumed was significantly cheaper than the new road.

    • Sascha Claus

      And the figures I have include some widening as well, which I’ve assumed was significantly cheaper than the new road.

      Depends on the number of bridges that have to be rebuilt because they weren’t provided with space for additional lanes (or that space has already been used up) and on the amount of demolition needed left and right, which might be more in built-up suburbia than through the countyside.

      I’m assuming the new M40 has to be tunneled through the whole Chiltern Hills AONB and everywhere else where it might spoil the view of the countryside? >:->

    • Michal Formanek

      In Prague – Czechia, 5.5 km city highway tunel “Blanka” cost 43 bilion CZK in 2016, which is roughly about 2 bilion USD. This was for 5.5 kilometers of 2+2 lane higway in the tunel, under the river, plus 3 junctions and additional 200m bridge. The project was criticized as badly managed and very expensive.

  3. Michael LeMay

    Gods I wish…

    Completely unrealistic (for politics reasons) dream would be “L to Secaucus through Hoboken”, “6 through-running to Newark on PATH lines” and/or “7 to Hoboken + Newport + exchange place”… and a lot of bus priority.

    That would of course be more than 10 billion, but 15 billion?

      • Michael LeMay

        Agreed! I appreciate the proposal from effective transit alliance for what it’s trying to do and the point it is making.

        Selfishly, as a Brooklyn commuter repeatedly harmed by the lack of tail tracks on the L, I dream of the MTA getting its shit together enough to reasonably propose expanding service across the Hudson at least across 14th street… that change would make the L way more effective, as it currently is very under utilized in the reverse direction of commuting (to Brooklyn in the morning, to Manhattan at night). Sending it fully across to Secaucus would balance that out, make it way more useful, and make it *probably* the best line in the system. If there were no state boundaries, it’d be on a top 10 list of most obvious cost effective extensions the MTA should pay for.

        That’s just New York nerd stuff though, the NJ side should spend their money on getting people around jersey effectively (and this is a killer set of projects).

        • Eric2

          Well, there is a nearly free fix for the L tail tracks problem. I think it runs every 4 minutes at the peak now? So run it every 3 minutes, but have half the trains short turn at 6th Ave.

          I don’t think an L extension is actually cost effective, given that the Gateway tunnel is currently estimated at $16 billion and likely higher in practice, and a L extension has similar complexity.

    • Alon Levy

      We steered clear of cross-Hudson rail for this plan, because it’s in competition for an intra-Jersey highway widening that is motivated by improving road access within the state.

  4. wood344

    What would it cost to do cut and cover for the existing downtown Jersey City section to grade separate it? It’s about 1.6 miles.

    How much cheaper would elevating it be compared to cut and cover?

    • adirondacker12800

      It and the Skyway are already grade separated except for the last few blocks west of the Holland Tunnel.

          • wood344

            The PATH and the HBLR are not redundant systems. There are very few trips where someone would be choosing between taking either the HBLR or Path because they run parallel for such a smaller portion of their systems.

            The PATH existing is not a reason to argue against improving the HBLR. Half of this proposal is projects to improve the HBLR. If this went forward and all these extensions to the HBLR were built there would be value in grade separating the core of the network especially since some of these proposals do already include tunneling elsewhere in Newark. I was asking what the cost was to determine how pricey getting these benefits would be.

            I’m guessing they didn’t include this in their list of projects because they wanted a map that showed as many extensions to as many new areas as possible.

          • adirondacker12800

            If you are someplace if it’s not parallel to PATH, you aren’t downtown. If they are digging tunnels in Newark they are out of their minds.

          • wood344

            Literally the only line the PATH and HBLR are parallel the Port Authority doesn’t even run at nights and on the weekends so for large sketches of time they might as well not be parallel anywhere.

          • adirondacker12800

            What does hours of operation have to do with whether or not it’s grade separated?

          • wood344

            It has to do with why the PATH is irrelevant to the question I asked.

            It has to do with the idea that the PATH and HBLR are at all redundant services giving two possible routes for the same trip. The HBLR is a 17 mile long system and the PATH is 13.8 miles and yet the only parallel parts is the ~1.5 miles from Exchange Place to Hoboken Terminal but the PATH actually often doesn’t even run from Exchange place to Hoboken Terminal. But actually you’re right that we shouldn’t focus on hours of operations because even when the PATH is running that route it still is irrelevant to the question of whether the HBLR should be improved.

            The PATH is a system designed to get people from NJ to Midtown and FiDi. The HBLR as currently built is a system designed to move people within Hudson County. They are not competing systems fighting against each other for passengers. If someone is starting a trip on the HBLR from south of Exchange Place and going somewhere north of Hoboken terminal do you think they are going to go HBLR -> PATH from Exchange to Hoboken Terminal -> back to HBLR? I don’t think many people are going to do that transfer to transfer back which means there are almost no trips that people are picking between the two systems based on preference.

            This proposal includes numerous projects that combine the HBLR with the Newark Light Rail and then turn it into a North Jersey Light Rail (NJLR) designed to move people within Hudson, Bergen, Passaic, and Essex counties greatly expanding the system while still keeping the goal different than the PATH’s. That’s why despite it adding a significant amount of miles of track the only new transfer station between the PATH and HBLR would be an existing NLR station at Newark Penn. With all that expansion and $10 billion being thrown around it is logical to ask how much it would cost to grade separate the street running part of a system that would be getting such a heavy investment elsewhere.

          • adirondacker12800

            I am not going schlep from Newark to Jersey City on a streetcar that stops every few blocks when I can take PATH. And no matter how fantabulous you make it for the few blocks it runs in the street in Jersey City I’m not going to take it to Hoboken either.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, I think of an HBLR extension to Newark as less “alternative to PATH” and more “another possible route, to be built if there’s TOD on the way” (i.e. redeveloping the entire industrial zone).

          • adirondacker12800

            There isn’t any. Unless you think people are just thrilled about the idea of living between 8 lanes of US1&9 and sixteen-ish lanes of the NJ Turnpike next to busy freight railroad.

  5. Jeff

    Why don’t we just get rid of most of the extension instead of widening it?
    Build 4 new car lanes from the Secaucus station turnpike exit thru the Bergen arches and use the existing turnpike extension ramps to connect to the Holland tunnel (and downtown JC)
    Cover the trench for a park to make people in the heights happy
    The turnpike extension can end at the Bayonne exit with caven point road widened to serve southern JC.
    The extension section left over can be converted to a linear park and bike path. The extension is built as 2 50’ wide spans so you can demo one span and leave the other with entry ramps for the bike path. Runs thru almost all of JC
    I imagine this would cost less than 10 billion and it would work better for everyone (except people driving to downtown Manhattan from Bayonne but I don’t have much sympathy for them)

    • Alon Levy

      Covering a trench always costs more than you think – it turns the road into a tunnel, with all the ventilation requirements that entails.

  6. Rewenzo

    I’d be curious to know what it would cost to reactivate the West Shore Railroad for passenger service.

  7. Martin

    I see a PATH extension to EWR airport. However, what if we extended the Newark Airport Airtrain to Newar Penn Station instead?

    The distance to be built will be the same, giving airport passengers significantly more options with only a single transfer.

    Amtrak could save time and money by eliminating the airport stop that is less than 2 miles from the next one. It expands the number of options for through-ticketing because while passengers might balk at multiple transfers to catch an intercity train, taking an airport people to move to a main intercity station is something even my wife would be ok with. 🙂

    • Tiercelet

      While the goal of removing multiple transfers is laudable, the Newark Airport Airtrain’s service is nowhere near up to the task. For this to be workable, there would at the very least need to be radical changes to the Airtrain to improve its frequency and capacity.

    • Eric2

      That makes no sense to me. If PATH is extended to the airport terminals, you will be able to get to Newark Penn Station on PATH just like you propose with Airtrain.

      • Martin

        Yeah. But consider that in Paris CDG airport, you merely walk downstairs to board your TGV. No transfers and no worrying about buying an extra ticket. Oh yeah, and we didn’t have to figure out which RER train to take, buy the right ticket, and lug all the suitcases across extra platforms.

        Yeah, you could extend PATH, but that primarily benefits PATH passengers. Asking my wife to take AirTrain and get off at the right stop, and then figure out how to buy a PATH ticket, ensure she got the correct train, then haul her luggage again, only to figure out her intercity situation is a significant hurdle. Then there’s the delay and stress of waiting for the next train or rushing into one with all your luggage.

        You’re probably losing 70% of your potential ridership through the extra transfer and the unfriendly user experience of dealing with multiple operators.

        And yeah, the idea was that as part of replacing the monorail with a proper AirTrain, running it an extra mile to Newark is infinitely friendlier for the passengers.

        My point is that from an airport passenger perspective, having access to Newark is significantly more helpful than PATH.

        • adirondacker12800

          But consider that in Paris CDG airport, you merely walk downstairs to board your TGV.
          If you are lucky enough to be using the correct part of Terminal 2. If you aren’t, you won’t.

          My point is that from an airport passenger perspective, having access to Newark is significantly more helpful than PATH.
          PATH is going to share the same concourse as Amtrak and New Jersey Transit. If you want to go to Philadelphia or New Haven you can get on Amtrak at the airport. If you want to go to Midtown or Princeton you can get on NJTransit. If you want to go to Wall Street you can get on PATH.

        • wood344

          “Yeah, you could extend PATH, but that primarily benefits PATH passengers. Asking my wife to take AirTrain and get off at the right stop, and then figure out how to buy a PATH ticket…My point is that from an airport passenger perspective, having access to Newark is significantly more helpful than PATH”

          This isn’t proposing that the PATH go to the current NJ Transit Air Train transfer station. It’s proposing that the PATH replaces the airtrain and goes right to the terminals. There would be no more airtrain since it’s due to be replaced anyway and is run by the same agency that runs the PATH.

          If the PATH went to the terminals it’s still a one seat ride between Newark Penn and your flight. Path to NJ transit transfers at Newark Penn are pretty convenient with as many possible being cross platform or with stairs/ramps that go directly from platform to platform. The current Airtrain to NJ transit transfers are a longer walk.

          The PATH’s new contactless credit card or mobile payment system is delayed but will be built before any extension so the payment would be as simple as your wife walking up to the turnstile and tapping her credit card or phone.

          Also with the Path going right to the terminals NJ Transit would still have the option to remove it’s EWR stop. All airport travelers could go to Newark Path and transfer to the PATH instead of transferring to an airtrain.

          The only thing I could think of in support of extending the airtrain over PATH to terminals is if the new airtrain could go even further and be compatible with the Broad Street line of the Newark light rail so it could have direct transfers with the NJ Transit lines that stop at Newark Broad Street, but this plan has other ideas for that line anyway. (That’s also not grade separated so no more automation unless the current line is rebuilt as grade separated)

          In terms of best airport connectivity and nothing else I would rank things as:

          1. PATH completely replaces airtrain and goes right to the terminals. (1 seat ride from flights to WTC, easy transfers at Newark Penn to North Jersey Coast, Northeast Corridor, and Raritan Valley Lines)

          2. Airtrain to both Newark Penn and Newark Broad Street. (1 transfer to get to North Jersey Coast, Northeast Corridor, Raritan Valley, Montclair-Boonton, and Morristown lines and on weekdays also the Gladstone Branch.

          3. Airtrain to Newark Penn (1 transfer to get to North Jersey Coast, Northeast Corridor, and Raritan Valley Lines)

          4. Path to the current airtrain NJ transit transfer station and rebuilt airtrain shuttle people from there to the terminals. (1 transfer to get to PATH WTC line, North Jersey Coast and Northeast Corridor lines)

          5. No PATH extension and a rebuilt airtrain serving no new areas. (1 transfer to get to North Jersey Coast and Northeast Corridor lines)

        • Eric2

          You seem to be assuming that PATH is only extended to Newark Airport station, so that someone getting off the plane has to take Airtrain to Newark Airport station, then PATH to Newark Penn, then Amtrak/NJT to wherever.

          But what Alon is actually proposing (see map at the top) is to eliminate Airtrain entirely (I hear it’s pretty antiquated and unreliable as is) and instead build PATH all the way to the terminals. In this case, there would be a direct ride to Newark Penn. There would also be a direct ride to Lower Manhattan, which Airtrain could never provide. No matter what your destination, it would involve the same or fewer transfers compared to using Airtrain.

          • adirondacker12800

            Airtrain doesn’t exist to get people from the train station to or from the terminals. It exists to get between terminals and to or from the parking lots, car rentals, shuttle buses etc. It will always be there in one form or another. Terminals B and C and likely the new A aren’t designed for PATH trains. They would either have to be torn down or there would need to be a lot of tunneling. Taking Airtrain out the the station is good enough.

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