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New Regional Plan Warns New York's Growth Will Stop If Transit, Housing, Climate Change Are Not Addressed

A satellite view of New York City and New Jersey in 2015

The Regional Plan Association has released its Fourth Plan for improving the health and prosperity of the Tri-State Region, and its recommendations are as sweeping as its warnings are sobering.

According to the RPA, families with average incomes in the bottom 60% of the region have seen little to no income growth since 2000, with nearly all of the region's prosperity being funneled to the highest earners. The region is more segregated based on income and race than the average American metropolitan area.

Such disparity is one of the factors in the RPA's prediction that growth will slow to a crawl if massive changes are not made. In the last 25 years, 1.8 million jobs have been added to the region, but the RPA projects only 850,000 jobs to be added in the next 25 years if current conditions are not addressed.

The RPA also warns that not nearly enough is being done to prepare for the effects of climate change, which will cause sea levels to rise even if aggressive sustainability efforts are put into practice today. Among other plans, the nonprofit recommends the closure of Teterboro Airport, which will be permanently flooded when sea levels rise even one foot.

The RPA's biggest recommendation comes in the form of the transit system. The subway and regional rail systems are cracking under the pressures of record ridership, damage from major storms and the persistent cutting of funds by state and local governments. The Metropolitan Transit Authority also suffers from long overdue technology updates and an unwillingness to swallow long-term shutdowns for big changes, with the exception of the upcoming L train closure.

The RPA recommends that New York creates a Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corp. focused on rebuilding and expanding the MTA system, including the creation of eight new lines and the expansion of existing lines to better service lower-income residents who depend on public transportation. It also suggests that the subway close after 12:30 a.m. on weekdays and be replaced with buses, to allow for larger maintenance windows for track repairs.

The RPA also recommends the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey "take immediate steps to de-politicize decision-making," and eventually create independent entities to manage bridges, tunnels and other assets under its purview. The RPA envisions the Port Authority itself would "focus on its function as an infrastructure bank that finances large-scale projects."

Perhaps the most ambitious reorganization recommended by the RPA was saved for the regional rail systems. Currently divided between NJ Transit, Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, the regional rail network would be unified under a Trans-Regional Express (T-REX) that would directly connect the city with Long Island, Connecticut, New York suburbs and New Jersey without going through multiple organizational structures.

The Fourth Plan is comprehensive and full of ambition; previous RPA recommendations that have been put into practice include the placement and creation of the George Washington Bridge, the preservation of Governors Island as a historical site and the preservation of the Palisades and creation of the Palisades Parkway.