July 27, 2015
By Larry Cary
I can't believe that Governor Chris Christie is claiming that if elected President he would revive the Hudson River tunnel project he scuttled during his first term as governor. That project was sorely needed at the time and for future development of New Jersey and New York City's economy.
According to the New York Times Christie recently said, "If I am president of the United States, I call a meeting between the president, my secretary of transportation, the governor of New York and the governor of New Jersey and say, 'Listen, if we are all in this even Stevens, if we are all going to put in an equal share, then let's go build these tunnels.'"
Not since Mickey Rooney uttered, "Hey, kids, let's put on a show!" in the 1939 movie classic, "Babes in Arms," has anyone ever uttered such a simplistically glib solution to solving a big problem. In Rooney's case he was trying to save his fictional town from financial problems. In Christie's case, he is trying to save his campaign for president. The idea that all it takes is a quick meeting and agreement between a few politicians to make a massive project like the Hudson River tunnel get going is so ludicrous it constitutes an admission on his part that he did not then and does not now understand the historic opportunity that was lost when he decided to cancel it.
When Christie cancelled the project in 2010, shortly after the work began, the tunnel project was 15 years in the making. Intended to supplement the two existing 100 year old tunnels, if nothing else, building ARC (Access to the Region's Core as the tunnel was called) would have allowed critically needed maintenance to go forward on these old tunnels which cannot be done because it requires they be shutdown to do the work. Last week's three days of commuter craziness on NJ Transit reflects the problem of not maintaining the system, which will only get worse as time goes by.
The project was also intended to meet the needs of a growing region to easily and quickly commute between all parts of New Jersey and New York City. Expected to be completed only three years from now, an additional 70,000 daily commuters would have been accommodated. Climate changing emissions would have been curtailed because of fewer cars on the road. For those still using cars, there would have been less congestion at the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and traffic congestion in New York City would have been abated as well.
There would have been a housing dividend for New Jersey and New York City residents. Home values for Jersey residents near train stations would have increased by $100,000 or more in many, many cases while relieving upwards price pressure on the overheated New York City rental and condo markets. Because many in New Jersey are still underwater because of the size of their mortgage and the collapse of housing values, an increase in housing values would have freed thousands from the misery of just working for the bank instead of themselves.
Not only did Christie's decision eliminate these social benefits, it also eliminated 6,000 well-paying union scale construction jobs lasting a decade. Our region's working class lost $10,000,000,000 of income at a time when high unemployment rates were being felt and are still being felt in construction.
At the time, Christie justified his cancellation of the project by claiming that New Jersey residents would have paid billions more in unanticipated cost overruns. While critics of his decision pointed out at the time that this did not make sense, an independent Congressional analysis completed a few years later shows that he either was prevaricating or ignorant of the true costs. While Christie claimed that $4 Billion had been added to the estimated cost, the report said otherwise. Christie also misstated New Jersey's share of the cost. He claimed New Jersey was paying for 70 percent of the project when in fact its share amounted to less than 15 percent. (Needless to say, his recent radio announcement that all it would take to build the tunnel project was each state putting in an "even Stevens" amount, reinforces the outrageous character of his decision to cancel the project. New Jersey was getting the deal of a lifetime.)
Chris Christie's decision to cancel ARC was motivated by his desire to not raise the New Jersey gas tax to fund a depleted insurance fund used to finance road and infrastructure repair and construction. He wanted to run for president. He worried more about how raising the gas tax would look to an out-of-state potential Republican Party primary voter in 2016, than taking care of the people who elected him governor. Now that Bridge Gate has all but destroyed his presidential chances, his selfish short-sightedness has come to naught.
But Christie is not the only politician failing to take good care of the peoples' business. Unfortunately, large scale capital expenditures to build-out our society's needed physical infrastructures does not receive the priority it should command in our political system. And this is true whether the construction is private or public. It is 14 long years since Osama bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Center Towers. Despite our shared resolve to stand up to terrorism, the redevelopment of that space has yet to be fully completed. In an even worse example, the construction of the Second Avenue subway line, which began in 1927 – almost 80 years ago – is still not finished.
By contrast, China is now building Jing-Jin-Ji, an effort to create an integrated megalopolis of 130 million people the size of Kansa which will be united by a high speed rail system making the daily commute from any part of it to any other, less than an hour. Think that's not possible? China already has a high speed rail line allowing commuters to travel 80 miles in only 30 minutes.
China is building Jing-Jin-Ji to stimulate economic development in that part of the country. Sadly, by comparison, when we passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to dig us out of the Great Recession, much of that effort went to giving tax breaks and little of the $750 billion was spent on new infrastructure. What I remember is we spent much of this money on filling pot holes.
While pot holes do need filling, it is time for the general public and especially America's politicians to wake up to the fact that unless we begin to put serious money into rebuilding our bridges, dams, highways, railroads, tunnels, costal ports, and airports, and into building new infrastructures like ARC and high speed rail, we will be living and working in an economy so hampered by a crumbling physical plant that investment, good jobs and the good life are not found here, but overseas.
For having cancelled ARC, Chris Christie is unfit to be president.