It’s safe to say that Chuck Schumer and Chris Christie aren’t friends. As I explored, New York’s senior senator had some choice words for the New Jersey governor at a Crain’s Breakfast yesterday. Amidst a speech about the need to invest in the region’s infrastructure, the senator slammed Christie for canceling the ARC Tunnel and setting back the region’s progress. It is, by now, a familiar refrain.
But while Schumer’s fight with his cross-Hudson, cross-aisle rival made headlines, the rest of his speech is worthy of attention to. His summed up his focus thusly: “It has been one of the particular geniuses of New York going back centuries that we have always recognized the importance of investing in infrastructure, even when others did not.”
Today, it might seem a bit unwieldy to praise our infrastructure efforts. New York’s subway system and road network are not in the best of shape, and the advancements we’re making seem, like the Second Ave. Subway, costly or, like the 7 Line extension, misguided at best. Still, Schumer praised even these small signs of forward movement. “On the Upper East Side, the Second Avenue subway is finally becoming a reality,” he said. “Although progress remains slower than we would like, the fact that we are in the ground and actually moving ahead after eighty years of discussion and abortive starts is a great achievement…Ultimately, when all four phases of the Second Avenue Subway are completed, we will be improving the commute of over half a million riders every day.”
During the speech, Schumer spoke at length about the why of it all. “Without increased capacity, Manhattan, and the surrounding areas that depend on it, would stop growing. Our competitive advantage would become a disadvantage if something was not done,” he said while touting the benefits of the East Side Access plan.
After slamming Christie’s decision as the moment when “the region stopped looking toward the future,” Schumer let loose his litany of desired improvements. He wants New York to embrace high-speed rail; he wants a one-seat ride to Laguardia; he wants to make sure our region’s over-taxed airports can meet the demands of travel in 2011. “For New York to continue to thrive in the 21st century, we must continue to make major investments in its transportation system,” he said. “These are the projects which will fuel the region’s economic growth for the coming decades.”
With a rhetorical flourish, he ended where one would expect him to end. “In today’s competitive global economy,” he said, “to stand still is to fall further and further behind. We cannot let that happen.”
It all sounds good. Schumer has always had a knack for saying the right things, but his actions over the years have spoken louder than words. He might talk about investing in infrastructure, and he might deliver federal grants now and then. He was certainly instrumental in getting the Second Ave. Subway off the drawing board and into the ground, but his leadership on most transit issues has been mostly non-existent/
What Schumer hasn’t done for New York and its infrastructure is substantial. He didn’t lead an effort to secure emergency federal funds to help transit authorities ease operating deficits and avoid criplping fare hikes and service cuts. He hasn’t played a role in ensuring that the MTA is adequately funded, that a congestion pricing funding scheme passed through Albany or that the MTA’s current $10 billion capital budget hole is closed.
New York City and its subway system won’t sink if Schumer neglects it or continues his laissez-faire approach to transit. Furthermore, many of these issues are far more relevant at the state level than in Congress, but with the largest transit-riding constituency in the country. Schumer should be doing more. This year, facing capital needs and a hazy operations outlook, the MTA needs all the help it can get, and New York’s powerful senator should be able to deliver.