Saturday, December 18, 2010

Westchester-Rockland Pick-a-Mix

In browsing the Tappan Zee study documents, I occasionally come across a really useful nugget, and the latest one is on Page 7-3 of Chapter 7 of the Transit Mode Selection Report (PDF). It's a cute little pair of tables supporting a pair of charts. Don't look at the charts, they're just there to argue that commuter rail on the full corridor is too expensive.

The value of these charts is that they provide a breakdown of the cost estimates of individual components of the bridge, and taken with the figures on Page 3 of the Preliminary Financial Assessment (PDF), we get a fairly complete picture. This information is hard to come by, either as a deliberate plan to favor road construction, or out of general obtuseness, depending on how much you want to use Hanlon's razor.

CodeComponentCost in millions
BHB1Bridge with HO/T lanes $ 5,180
BR1Commuter rail capacity on bridge 1,220
RWH1Highway "improvements" (widening) 1,800
RB1Rockland HO/T lanes 263
RB1Rockland busway800
WB1Westchester bus lanes 560
WB2Westchester busway 2,210
RR1Rockland commuter rail 4,410
WR1Rail connection to Hudson Line 1,500
WR2Westchester light rail 2,295
WR3Westchester commuter rail 7,080
WR3Westchester commuter rail 7,080

The $16 billion figure (estimated to be $23 billion after inflation and debt service) you often hear bandied about comes from the current Alternative 4D: in Tier 1, BHB1 + RWH1 = $6,980,000; in Tier 2, RB1 + RR1 + WB1 + WR1 = $8,383,000. However, as I've written before, the organization into tiers was completely arbitrary and decided behind closed doors, subject to none of the rigorous and intensive public participation requirements of the rest of the project.

You can kinda sorta see why they would want to build the bridge before putting in the "BRT" lanes (they're actually High Occupancy/Toll lanes and don't qualify for federal transit funding), but there's absolutely no reason why the $1.9 billion in "Highway Improvements" (reconstructing the Thruway interchange with the Westchester Expressway at Exit 8 and widening the Thruway from the bridge west to Exit 12) need to be done before anything else. So I'm going to do my own Pick-A-Mix, and I suggest you try yours.

Phase 1: WB2 + RB1 = only $823 million, but I would make the Rockland "BRT" a real exclusive bus lane connecting to a reversible bus lane in the middle of the existing bridge. The total cost would be well below $4 billion dollars, and it might just take enough cars off the bridge so that there would no longer be any justification for replacing the bridge.

If the demand is there, Phase 2 would be BBH1 + BR1 + RR1 + WR1, for a total of $12,310,000. The total is slightly more than the current DOT proposal, but you could probably shave a few million off that by only building six general-traffic lanes on the bridge instead of eight. What's your mix?


George K said...

What do they mean by "Westchester commuter rail"? Do they mean some kind of cross-Westchester rail line.

Also, would the commuter rail and light rail run on the same frequency, or would the light rail run more frequently? I would support the light rail over the commuter rail if it meant greater frequencies (though I don't know if there are enough people there to support a high frequency)

By the way, what is the difference between a "busway" and bus lanes?

Cap'n Transit said...

Excellent questions, George! Yes, "Westchester commuter rail" would be a heavy rail line from Tarrytown to Port Chester via White Plains. See Chapter 4 for details.

On Page 4-2, they write that commuter rail lines "are high-capacity systems operating trains of 10 or even more cars generally on less-frequent headways than LRT or RRT. Typical peak-hour headways of 30 minutes are common, although some lines operate on headways as short as 15 minutes." So I'm guessing that the plan would be to run light rail every 10-15 minutes. You can see ridership estimates in Chapter 5.

In Chapter 2 they discuss bus options in Westchester. The bus lanes would be dedicated curbside lanes along route 119 and Westchester Avenue, while the busways would be grade-separated two-way roadways, either along I-287 or along NY-119.

I also just noticed at the end of Chapter 2, they estimate the cost of full busways in Rockland to be about $800 million.

Alon Levy said...

My mix is No Build, unless they can cut the overall construction cost by a factor of at least 5. New York State should just not spend $16 billion on promoting Rockland County sprawl.

If costs can't be brought down, the state should encourage upzoning in the cities on the Hudson and Harlem Lines, to allow the people who work east of the Hudson to live east of the Hudson. Commuters would either drive on existing Westchester roads, or take existing trains. People who want to keep living west of the Hudson could take the GWB.

An east-west rail line from Tarrytown to White Plains and Port Chester could be built in addition, with provisions for extending across the river if costs drop to the point that a bridge is cost-effective. However, at $8 billion it is too expensive, too: its per-km cost would be on a par with Europe's most expensive inner-urban subways, crossing tens of meters under older subway networks.

Unknown said...

I'm almost certain that cross-Westchester BRT is being considered the preferred alternative by the TZB study team. The cross-county rail line is included for comparison's sake but there is about zero chance of seeing that implemented, given its astonishingly steep cost.

TOD in the vicinity of the rail lines is something that is already taking place to a large extent, but upzoning outside of the immediate walkshed in these communities is generally not a viable option as the Metro North parking lots have waiting lists measures in years.

Adirondacker12800 said...

it might just take enough cars off the bridge so that there would no longer be any justification for replacing the bridge.

The justification for rebuilding the bridge is to get it done before it falls into the river. All the other options being explored are being explored because the bridge is past it's design lifetime.

Cap'n Transit said...

Yes, Adirondacker, but those calculations look a lot different if the number of vehicles crossing the bridge is cut in half.

Adirondacker12800 said...

It's at risk for falling into the river. Not imminent but it is foreseeable that it will fall into the river. It needs to be replaced. All the other considerations come from the determination that letting fall into the river is not a viable option.

Cap'n Transit said...

All bridges will fall into the river if you give them enough time. Why is this one a priority?

Adirondacker12800 said...

Most Interstate grade bridges don't use wood as a major structural component. The Tappan Zee does. Shipworm isn't a problem for concrete or steel. It is for wood.

The Wikipedia article has a very good bibliography. The bridge itself has it's own website, with copies of all the pertinent documents, like the alternatives analysis. Extensive discussion of the structural problems the current bridge has.

George K said...

As far as light rail vs. commuter rail vs. bus lanes, I'm torn as to which is best.

If you use light rail or buses, you'll get more frequent service, but that frequent service might not do you much good if you are connecting with less frequent commuter lines? You need to have a significant amount of suburb-suburb commuters to warrant that type of frequency (though if there are that many suburb-suburb commuters, it would be great if they could offer a low fare to encourage the use of transit to make that type of commute).

If you use commuter rail, you have lower frequencies, but you could potentially offer direct service from the Port Jervis Line to Grand Central (or Penn Station via Amtrak's line on the West Side of Manhattan)

Alon Levy said...

George, the reason commuter rail is less frequent than light rail isn't lower demand. It's that FRA regulations, which apply to commuter rail but not light rail, make it uneconomic to offer decent off-peak frequencies.

George K said...

But my question is whether higher frequencies are warranted.

Alon Levy said...

I'd ask the opposite question: if you don't intend to offer at least half-hourly local service all day, what's the point of building anything at all?

George K said...

Good point. I'm assuming that any transitway will have to be built from scratch, correct?

Alon Levy said...

Partly. There's an abandoned rail ROW connecting the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines. Then the trainsitway would need to use the I-87 ROW for 6 miles, but that doesn't cost 4.5 billion outside New York; even 500 million would be very high for this amount of infrastructure.

Adirondacker12800 said...

All bridges will fall into the river if you give them enough time. Why is this one a priority?

Shipworm. The causeways are on wooden pilings. The shipworms will get them much faster than concrete or granite will have a problem.

you could potentially offer direct service from the Port Jervis Line to Grand Central (or Penn Station via Amtrak's line on the West Side of Manhattan)

They were going to in 2017 or so via the added capacity of the new tunnels from New Jersey. Grand Central soon afterwards.

The consensus on foamer boards is that you cannot connect to the Hudson Line reasonably, it's too far below the grade of the roadway. It would have to connect to the Harlem line or have it's own tunnel.

Origins and destinations in Rockland and Westchester are diffuse. A bus terminal where people can change buses might be the best solution.