In the next 25 years, the number of daily commuters from New Jersey to Manhattan could rise by 34 percent, much more than the current system can handle, according to new data from the Regional Planning Association (RPA).
Today 320,000 New Jerseyans commute into Manhattan daily, and in some spots, the current system is already operating beyond capacity.
For the last five years, the RPA has been working on the Fourth Regional Plan, a guidebook for regional planners to follow regarding the issues of the region and ways to potentially fix them. One of the most prominent issues is transportation, connecting the most densely populated state in the union to the metropolitan areas it sits between, New York and Philadelphia.
One of New Jersey’s “big takeaways” from the plan is a look into rebuilding mass-transit tunnels under the Hudson River, according to Dani Simons, vice president of strategic communications at RPA. “That, along with the creation of the second bus terminal at the [Jacob K.] Javits [Convention] Center in Manhattan. … This is a set of improvements that can expand the number of commuters who can get into Manhattan and even transfer up to Westchester or down to Long Island.”
The trans-Hudson tunnels, referred to as the Gateway Program, “is the highest infrastructure priority for the nation,” according to “Crossing the Hudson: How to Increase Transit Capacity and Improve Commutes,” the RPA’s report released in August. “The entire Northeast Corridor relies on that connection.” The current Gateway Program terminates at Penn Station, but the Fourth Regional Plan suggests it continue to Queens.
“By providing crosstown service, passengers could travel directly between New Jersey and Long Island, thus increasing regional connectivity while also drastically increasing the capacity of the investment,” according to the plan.
Available transportation doesn’t just benefit individual commuters on their way to work, but the businesses that employ them. “The comprehensive nature of a transportation system is very important when companies are making the decision to relocate or grow,” said Barbara Kauffman, executive vice president and COO of the Newark Regional Business Partnership.
“Fixing the network of transportation systems would mean a lot more flexibility for the region and would make movement in this area much, much easier,” Kauffman said.
“At NRBP, we draw on the deep connection between transportation and the economic future of the region. This plan, in its comprehensive nature, means we will be better able to attract the Amazons of the future,” said Kauffman. “The remarkable thing about the Fourth Regional Plan is that it continues the tradition of regional planning in being a comprehensive think tank in an organization that looks at the totality of the region and proposes ideas that are bold and have long-term value for the region.”
Previous RPA regional plans in 1929, 1968, and 1996 have had long-lasting effects on the region. Understanding the George Washington Bridge would primarily be used for through traffic, the First Plan proposed it be moved from its planned location in midtown Manhattan to 178th Street, thus avoiding the congestion of midtown. The Second Regional Plan held a pivotal role in establishing the Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey, introducing the concept of national parkland near urban areas. Without a plan to preserve what natural landscape remained, the RPA recognized that that landscape would likely be developed.
The far-reaching Fourth Regional Plan sets it sights as far ahead as 2040. Along with transportation, it tackles issues like affordable housing, carbon emissions and protecting the Meadowlands.
“Like any plan, the implementation doesn’t happen immediately. By putting out the totality of the concept and issuing a plan that’s so comprehensive, the RPA lays out options and allows the different agencies responsible to work toward the goal,” said Kauffman.
“If you don’t have the goal involved you can’t tackle it,” she continued. “The plan is a call to action.”