My post last Wednesday on Chris Christie's plans to use the Port Authority's $3 billion ARC tunnel contribution on a bus garage, reconstructing the Lincoln Tunnel helix, and replacing the cables on the George Washington Bridge got some interesting comments, both here and when Angie Schmitt featured it on the Streetsblog Network. Some of the comments pointed out that since buses use roads, this doesn't have to be all for cars. Sean, Kate and Alon on Streetsblog, and Busplanner here, all argued that the helix reconstruction could help speed buses.
For those of you just tuning in, the Lincoln Tunnel exclusive bus lane is a counterflow lane. One of the lanes that is normally reserved for outbound traffic is allocated for inbound buses during the weekday morning rush, but then it's over, and there is no outbound XBL. It carries thousands of people every morning, in an impressive feat of bus service, and is quite likely possible for the continued viability of most of the country's private bus lines. Several transit advocates have argued for making the XBL two-way round-the-clock, and for doubling it in the morning rush. The Port Authority has studied this, but there hasn't been much movement on it. One of the items in the Strategic Plan was $800 million to expand the XBL, but the helix reconstruction and the GWB cables seem to have jumped ahead of this.
I agree that since the Lincoln Tunnel exclusive bus lane goes on the helix, it would be negatively impacted if the helix were to fall down. But rebuilding the helix by itself would not actually increase capacity. The current helix is three lanes inbound and four outbound, and we could conceivably press to increase that to four inbound and five outbound, with one in each direction reserved for buses.
The problem is that the helix still connects to a six-lane road cut through the bedrock of the Palisades, and we can't add any lanes to that without some serious blasting. Increasing the capacity of the helix would just move the backups a mile further out of the city, to the point where the lanes merge down to three in each direction again. This is the reason why most of the serious plans to increase the XBL capacity involve taking another car lane.
However, we've got some pretty clear indications that Christie understands that this is about subsidies for drivers versus subsidies for transit, and we know where he comes down on that issue. I wouldn't expect him to say, "Okay guys, sure, let's take a general traffic lane and give it to bus riders!" Unless it's some vicious sarcasm like his mom dished out with her bit about the money tree.
That's not to say that savvy politicians couldn't get an expansion of the XBL folded into the helix reconstruction. Maybe if everyone plays their cards right, Cuomo could threaten to block the helix reconstruction as a car project unless XBL expansion is included in it. But that's not going to happen if everyone says, "Well, the helix benefits buses too!"