On Nov. 28 and 30, the agency held public meetings in Newark to explain and gather public input on their preliminary plan for a 2.4-mile extension to a new PATH station in Newark's South Ward. (Through Dec. 20, interested parties can submit comments on the project via email at PATHextension@panynj.gov or the project's website comment form at www.panynj.gov/PATHextension).
The agency has allocated $1.7 billion for the project in its most recent 10-year capital plan, and estimates it will be complete by 2026. They will also seek additional funding from the Federal Transportation Administration.
The proposal would extend PATH's Newark to World Trade Center line from its current western terminus at Newark Penn Station, to a new station near Newark's Dayton neighborhood. The new station would be adjacent to an existing airport station reached by NJ Transit and Amtrak.
Because the station is not actually located at Newark International, it features an AirTrain that takes passengers to the airport's terminals. The new station’s platform would connect to the existing station and AirTrain by an extended walkway. It would also feature pedestrian and bicycle paths and a bus and taxi drop off area.
The existing station does not allow on-street access due to an agreement with the FAA limiting its use to people going to and from the airport.
Why is the station needed?
The Port Authority is arguing the station is needed not just to improve access to EWR, but also to improve transit options in the South Ward, and connect it to employment centers in Downtown Newark, Jersey City, and Lower Manhattan.
“Customers traveling to the airport by rail from Hoboken, Jersey City, or Lower Manhattan face a three-or-four-seat ride to reach the airport, and the connections between modes are rarely synchronized and often inconvenient,” the PA said in a document.
It also argues the station would alleviate crowding at Newark Penn Station. Around 9,300 PATH customers transfer to NJ Transit or Amtrak at the station each weekday, the authority says. The PA is currently undergoing a series of enhancements to accommodate increased passenger flow for the extension.
“There's a couple of different projects underway at this point,” said Port Authority Spokesman Scott Ladd, at the Nov. 30 meeting. “We're putting an automated, signal system that will reduce headways between trains, and buying new cars. Let's say you're at Journal Square, for example. At rush hour, trains stop at six minute differentials. We want to make that four. That means more trains are coming more quickly.”
The work would bring modifications to Newark Penn Station for greater capacity as well.
The new station would have trains running at three-minute headways during peak periods, the authority says.
Redundancy of service?
One criticism of the planned extension is that it replicates already existing service. The current airport station takes passengers on a one-seat ride from Manhattan to Newark International. Critics have also argued that other regional projects to improve trans-Hudson transit should take more precedence, such as the Gateway Project, which is a plan to replace the aging North River Tunnel under the Hudson River, and the Port Authority's plan to upgrade their 42nd Street Bus Terminal.
Additionally, they charge, the new station, just like the current one, would not go directly to the airport. Therefore, passengers would still have a multi-seat ride to their flights.
The agency originally considered an alternative extending PATH service directly to the airport, but eliminated it because doing so would require significant modifications to the airport terminals to accommodate heavy rail.
“I have mixed feelings,” said Sally Gellert of Woodcliff Lake, a member of the Lackawanna Coalition, which advocates for better service on NJ Transit lines on the NEC. “I don't know that it's really an improvement to the airport's transportation. If you're coming from Newark Broad Street to the airport, it doesn't help you with any fewer connections.”
Airport travelers from Newark Broad Street would have to take a light rail to Newark Penn, and then PATH to the AirTrain under the preliminary alternative.
Gellert said she would like to see the extension add more stations. There is also a non-preclude contract to add more stations to the extension, if the need develops or if the money is available, Ladd said.
She would also like the Port Authority to instead negotiate with the FAA to open the existing station to local residents.
“That would probably be a lot less than $1.7 billion,” she said.
“It would make more sense to have an airport bus that would take you directly from either Broad Street Station, where our constituents go, or Penn Station, right to the airport, than to have to change for a monorail,” added David Peter Alan, chair for the Lackawanna Coalition.
“Right now, Port Authority is spending more than a billion and a half dollars on something that would duplicate an existing service, while there is a much more urgent need for more tunnels under the river, and for an improved Port Authority Bus Terminal. This is a waste.”
Port Authority responds
Regarding charges the extension duplicates service, Ladd countered that it gives South Ward residents direct access to Lower Manhattan, which the current station does not. Ladd also said that South Ward residents who work in Jersey City today have to first get to Newark Penn—a possible cost by itself--then transfer to PATH. The station would bring those residents a one-seat ride.
After the scoping process is complete, the Port Authority will prepare an environmental assessment to assess the project's environmental consequences. After the Federal Transportation Authority approves the EA, and it is made available for a 30-day public comment period, it will review the comments and determine whether or not to officially greenlight the project. The agency expects the FTA to make that decision by 2019.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org