Friday, July 24, 2015

When Politicians Play with our Cars and Trains

Picture of children playing with cars

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) recently announced that if elected president, he would build the tunnel from New York to New Jersey he canceled in 2010.

Christie claimed that New York wasn’t going to pay its share while the feds were ready to spend stimulus money for their share. When the tunnel was canceled, the Governor of New York was David Paterson, a man who was better at being Lieutenant Governor. Had Christie waited until Andrew Cuomo was inaugurated as Governor, he could have made a better deal.

But that means Christie would have been guilty of helping Obama fix the economy using federal revenue. Since he’s been planning to appeal to Republican primary voters for six years that was a non-starter.

That’s what makes his statement so interesting. Now that Christie’s shenanigans have cost him frontrunner status, he needs to say something out of left field to get publicity.

He could say that five years ago the tunnel was in fine shape but now that it’s 105 years old, it needs to be replaced.

But those following the issue (and found this blog) know that the state’s infrastructure has been in shambles for a while. Many of its roads are full of potholes. Rush hour in New Jersey is an arduous trek due to the high level of congestion on roads that were not designed to have their maintenance neglected.

Take a look at this bridge over the Passaic River in Newark, NJ. This bridge takes about 170,000 passengers to New York City on NJ Transit and Amtrak. And it looks like an old Erector toy set!

Picture of Dock Bridge over Passaic River in Newark, New Jersey
The Dock Bridge over the Passaic River from Newark, NJ 
to Harrison, NJ

They say it’s better elsewhere

At the same time, a survey of members of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce say the New Jersey’s inadequate infrastructure is hurting the its economy. The Chamber of Commerce is no liberal band of hippie activists and academics. On the contrary, its members are executives of prominent corporations.

The survey is interesting since it says that executives are unhappy about the deterioration of all of New Jersey’s infrastructure: roads, bridges, tunnels, and mass transit. Usually you’d expect them to ignore the condition of mass transit.

“It’s the lifeblood of New Jersey. It’s the foundation of our economy,” said Tom Bracken, President of the Chamber of Commerce to NJ Spotlight.

What’s your point?

This is all the more galling when you realize that New Jersey has a higher unemployment rate than neighboring states. Thus, addressing the infrastructure situation should be a no-brainer if the Chamber along with unions, academics, think tanks, and other seemingly progressive groups think it would help.

Part of the reason that New Jersey has such a poor infrastructure is that it has the second lowest state gas tax. It stands to reason it should be raised.

Taxes?! Not Taxes!

Granted New Jersey already has high taxes, especially property taxes. But that’s another issue to be addressed later. Adding a few cents is not going to break the bank if it helps improve the state’s economy.

But with Christie running for president, we’ll have to wait at least a year if not until a new Governor is inaugurated in 2018 for infrastructure to really be addressed.

What’s the deal with Congress and transportation?

Congress has started playing with transportation funding again. While some Senators might want to fund transportation, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another 2016 contender, wants to gum up the works with an abortion funding amendment.

And the House of Representatives has no interest in playing ball, as per usual. Because even a slight cut for a few months is a victory for them and a defeat for the millions trying to go to work.

But it’s likely that a deal will be made to keep funding at its current inadequate level for a few months until the game begins again.

Unfortunately, the transportation lobby has lost its firepower. It’s one thing for the Big Three and their friends to lobby for cutting public transportation and bike lanes funding. It’s another thing when they can’t get the money to fix the highways and bridges for cars.

A fully-funded transportation bill would lead to an increase in mass transit ridership as well build more bike lanes and sidewalks. This would lead to a reduction in traffic which would improve our air quality and overall health.