Looking at New York for a cross-Hudson solutionBy
When Gov. Chris Christie killed the ARC Tunnel nearly five months ago, one of his biggest complaints concerned the allocation of funds. New Jersey, the primary benefactors of the new tunnel, were expected to add $3 billion of their own money as well as any cost overruns while New York was on the hook for nothing. We could argue over the Port Authority allocations, but the truth of the matter was that New York State would have enjoyed a new tunnel without paying much. It was a valid complaint.
This week, with plans to build either an Amtrak-sponsored Gateway Tunnel or an extension of the 7 line to Secaucus, Christie reiterated his campaign promises. He would support increased transit spending, he said, as long as it’s a good deal for his constituents and as long as New York shoulders some of the costs as well. “I’m ready to invest in mass transit between New Jersey and New York. I’m just not willing to be fleeced for it,” the governor said. “That’s what the ARC was, a fleecing.”
During a transportation summit on Wednesday, Christie emphasized that point. “We have a better project that I know at some point someone will come to us and ask us to contribute to, and we will stand ready to do that,” he said. “But we will do that as partners with the federal government and Amtrak, and we will do that, I am certain, only under the condition that New York City and state contribute as well.”
As he again reiterated his belief that canceling ARC and throwing 20 years of planning out the window was a good idea, he continued: “Do we need another tunnel under the Hudson River for mass-transit? Yes, I’ve never denied that. I am not going to sign on as governor to deals that are bad for the taxpayers of New Jersey; bad deals in terms of the way the project is put together; and bad deals in terms of fairness in the region.”
That’s all well and good, but Christie’s comments, as they often do, raise some points. First, over at Gateway Gab, Jeremy Steinemann is skeptical. Steinemann is concerned about Christie’s decision to prioritize road widening coupled with his unwillingness to raise the gas taxes and says we’ve heard it all before.
Christie’s vocal support of mass-transit but his lack of action bears a resemblance to the rhetoric he displayed in the Gubernatorial election in 2009. His cancelation of the ARC project, for example, came as a surprise after he repeatedly expressed his support of the project as a candidate. What is clear, however, is that Christie will not push a trans-Hudson rail tunnel on his own. The political will must come from NY, NJ and the federal government.
But is Christie wrong in his assertions? Once upon a time, as on Subchatter noted on Thursday, the ARC Oversight Committee — available on this 2003 website snapshot — consisted of officials from New Jersey Transit, the MTA and Port Authority. New York had a say and a stake in the project, but as the decade wore on, New York’s role diminished to essentially nothing. Perhaps we can take comfort in believing that was the project’s fatal flaw, but Christie’s willingness to siphon rail money to roads makes me skeptical.
The overarching issue with ARC, Gateway of the 7 line extension is one of local government and expenditures. Who stands to benefit most from the new tunnel — New York businesses who can bring more commuters and tourists into the city or New Jersey residents who will find their commutes quicker and less stressful? Should New Jersey pay for transportation improvements that only incidentally end up in New York or should New York add more to the pot for a tunnel that adds to its economic allure?
The answer to those question is, obviously enough, probably both. To realize a new cross-Hudson rail tunnel, New York will have to add more to the pot, and they likely should. In an age of stretched state budgets though, it’s tough to see where the money will come from, and we may be in for a long wait until the next tunnel breaks ground.