Monday, August 10, 2015

The Persistence of Christie's Legacy

As Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions (at least for 2016) begin to unravel, his legacy as governor is simultaneously being formed. Due to some of his more egregious actions, that legacy will weigh heavily in New Jersey for decades to come.

Numerous aspects of life in the Garden State will be reflected in his legacy – women whose health has been compromised, pipelines through pristine, environmentally fragile areas, and an educational system that has badly deteriorated.

This morning, the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee heard testimony about another Christie blunder that will have a significant deleterious impact on the economy and quality of life for New Jersey residents.

Stephen Gardner
Stephen Gardner, Executive Vice President of Northeast Corridor Business Development at Amtrak, discussed the problems with New Jersey’s aging rail infrastructure with emphasis on the 105-year-old Trans-Hudson tunnels that bring trains into Manhattan. (Opeated by Amtrak, these tunnels are the sole entry into Manhattan for NJ Transit.)

Construction of additional tunnel capacity was underway when Christie assumed office. But in October 2010, he unilaterally and abruptly cancelled the project. His basis was unsubstantiated claims that massive overruns were about to occur, creating too big a burden to New Jersey taxpayers. Had he not taken this action and allowed ARC to continue, we would see some capacity relief around 2018. But that’s not going to happen.

The existing tunnels are running at capacity, leaving precious little time for standard maintenance of deteriorated tracks and electrical wiring. After Hurricane Sandy, the tunnels were flooded and there was no backup.  The system that carries 17% of New Jersey’s Manhattan commuters was shut down for four days at untold economic expense.

A new project, dubbed Gateway, is in the planning stages. It would build two new tunnels, allowing the existing ones to be closed for one year for much-needed rehabilitation. This could take as long as 15 years. Then, our trans-Hudson capacity would be doubled. Everyone agrees it needs to be done. But Congress (which funds 80% of the project) has yet to come up with any real money.

As Gardner explained, part of the problem is that Congress allocates capital funds on an annual basis, making a ten-year improvement program difficult to plan.  What Gardner failed to mention is that right after Christie’s ARC tunnel misstep, the Tea Party congress took over, making it an order of magnitude harder to get any required infrastructure project funded.

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