Elections Have Consequences

» In canceling the ARC tunnel project, Governor Christie was fulfilling his mandate, bad decision or not.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision yesterday to cancel work on the development of the ARC tunnel project, designed to double rail capacity between his state and Midtown Manhattan, was undoubtedly a problematic one both for existing riders facing increasing congestion on commuter and intercity trains and also for the state’s future growth prospects, which are intertwined with its connections to the global financial center.

Some have equated this week’s announcement to the 1975 decision to cut off construction on New York City’s Second Avenue Subway. That delayed the completion of a project that is vital for the mobility of hundreds of thousands of residents of the city’s Upper East Side by almost forty years.

But despite the appearance of similarities, there are significant differences in the causes of the two events. One was the product of the virtual bankruptcy of the city government: Construction ceased on the subway project in April 1975 due to a complete lack of municipal funds (at the time, capital projects were funded by the city); by June, the Municipal Assistance Corporation, basically a group of bankers, had taken over the administration’s finances with the goal of proving to the stock market that their investments in the city were sound. The result was austerity imposed by a undemocratic regime forced down the throats of the city’s inhabitants. With little ability to raise taxes on a shrinking city population and no continuing support from the state (or the federal government), the subway expansion had to be put on pause.

The other case, also supposedly a case of a government incapable of managing its affairs and therefore unable to pay for major capital expenses, actually comes about in a far different context.

Whatever the positives and negatives of the ARC program, Governor Christie’s announcement falls directly in line with what can only be considered the manifestation of his political agenda, endorsed by voters when they elected him in November 2009. As a candidate, Mr. Christie made clear his dislike of government and specifically said he would not consider raising gas taxes to pay for transportation programs. Though he apparently was in support of the ARC project then, his focus on austerity — cutting government budgets for the purpose of cutting above all else – should have presaged his action this week. With only slight evidence that the project was over budget, the Governor made no attempt to raise support for finding a new revenue source in case it was needed. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who understands the perspective from which this man is coming.

Almost two years ago, I questioned the future of the Second Avenue Subway (now under construction), asking whether the recession and cost increases could put the project back on hold. Despite those expected construction price escalations coming true, the project remains on track, but only thanks to the support of politicians at the state level (which controls the subway-running MTA). Even with all the shenanigans in New York State politics, at least for now the government has agreed to step in and pay for cost overruns, something New Jersey apparently will not do. This is not a reflection of the better circumstances of the New York economy but rather a demonstration of a willingness to find the means to increase government investments.

If there is something really wrong with what happened this week, it should framed by the election of Mr. Christie in November last year, not minimized as some sort of foolhardy choice he has made now. We must assume that the agenda politicians promote during their campaigns has some effect on actual decision-making, and from that perspective it would be unreasonable for the Governor to act in any other way. If his brand of “fiscal responsibility” means cutting away at the government’s investments, then when faced with an opportunity to eliminate funding for the biggest transit project in the nation’s history, of course he would follow through.

New Jersey may be faced with an historic decline in revenues thanks to nationwide economic difficulties, but it remains one of the country’s wealthiest states in one of the world’s richest countries; it would certainly have been possible for it to find the money to cover the cost overruns, which at a maximum of $5 billion (spread out over many years) would have represented just over 1% of the annual gross state product. Isn’t the state’s arguably most important infrastructure project ever worth such an investment? Wouldn’t the benefits gained from the construction of ARC far outweigh its costs, both in terms of travel-time reductions for New York-bound commuters and the opening of new areas to redevelopment and future growth?

But Governor Christie didn’t care whether the project was, as some transit proponents argue, “desperately needed.” Nor would he have likely been influenced even by changes in the project that fixed many of the flaws inherent in the most recent plan. He simply did not want to spend his political capital on a project that might involve an increase in government expenditures. That stance is not in contradiction with Mr. Christie’s clearly stated feelings about the need to “restrain” government, so it should not come as a surprise whatever his previous comments in favor of the scheme.

Voting is not a meaningless game. Though most candidates claim that they plan to act as “rationally” and “reasonably” as they can in office, each — whether right, left, or center — comes into the game with his or her own agenda motivated by ideological preferences. Mr. Christie made clear from the start that his goal was to reduce the size of government. Perhaps we should have taken that mode of thinking more seriously.

Note that it is perfectly possible that a political compromise either at the state or federal level is reached that sets ARC back into motion, but I believe that the argument made here still applies no matter the ultimate result.

Update, 9 October: Governor Christie has agreed to reevaluate his position on the tunnel over the next two weeks. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood may have offered an incentive to change the governor’s mind…

87 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Ocean Railroader

    What helped kill this project too was the fact it was not in deep enough in the cosntruction phase to make it harder for them to stop it. Such as the deep under ground rooms under the stations only had a few acess shalfs dug but no main large rooms for the trains to go in to. There might have been a few small openings dug in the ground but there was no TBM’s digging the main line tunnels. So when this guy gets to go see this thing it’s very easy for him to say we can stop work on this thing in that he could say they have not started digging out the main tunnels for it. That is the ecuess this guy got to get when he saw this thing being worked.

    This same thing will happen to the rail in Wisconsion, Califorinia and Ohio in that all there are is blue prints and envoro studies and no phiscal things being worked on.

    Now places like Vrginia, Illnoise and Vermont are smart in that they are right now phiscally laying track and building bridges or adding singals so most govoners in their right minds are not going to stop a project that is going full tilt in the consturciton phase. What happened here with this thing is it is a matter of who can get off the ship before it get’s torpedoed. Or the first houses out of the racing stalls.

    • Nathanael

      Wisconsin is rushing contract-signing in order to try to avoid cancellation by that idiot Scott Walker (and good for them). Walker could still decide to hand $300 million to other states *while* paying penalties to construction firms *and* getting nothing for it. He does seem that stupid.

      California looks like the idiot multimillionaire candidate will lose (thank goodness).

      Ohio… well, sorry, Ohio.

  • Lawrence Harkin

    This is why decisions of importance can not be left to the the voters. No Republicans / conservatives / tea baggers should ever be allowed to hold office above the local level. By whatever means necessary…

  • chris

    Christie’s proposed use of some of the ARC funding would go to roads. How does this help commuters into Manhattan? You cannot dump more traffic into the bridges and tunnels into the city. I understand being responsible with projects, but Christie is hurting NJ’s ability to have access to the job markets in New York. He isn’t looking long term.

  • DBX

    Personally, I think we may be at a point where the Penn Tunnels need to be taken away from New Jersey Transit — either through OSHA stating the obvious (that they desperately need work) and closing them down for repairs, or through the space being allocated entirely to Amtrak which could quickly fill them up. New Jersey commuters can use ferries instead like they used to.

    Even more of note, ARC itself is a mess of a project, what with its lack of redundancy and lack of connection to the rest of the system and building expensive new stations as a consequence. Even in canceling the project, Christie had a choice; he could prove himself to be a serious conservative when it comes to governing, and send ARC back with a remit to connect it properly to Penn and cut out the multi-billion expense of a deep station. Or he could prove himself to be a teabagger and a nihilist who is perfectly happy for bureaucratic agencies to keep their own separate turf and for commuters to take rickety boats across the Hudson. And that’s what he has chosen.

    • Blayze

      DBX, have you ever rode on an NJ Transit train before? To suggest we degenerate and use ferries instead of rail transit to connect Manhattan and New Jersey is the most backward teabag thought I’ve ever read. It is why the ARC tunnel is so badly needed considering the Penn-Hudson tunnels are over a century old and struggle every hour to get 11 rail lines, alongside Amtrak trains through two barely operable holes. New Jersey Transit is the third busiest passenger rail agency in the country. It would be transit suicide to transfer thousands of people via boat, not to mention it would add roughly another 50 minutes or so of travel for those of us that live in the center of the state. It’s pathetic how slow some of the trains run, considering the main problem is the bottleneck that stifles NJTransit and Amtrak trains attempting to enter the tunnels. Of course, NJTransit is ran by morons yet they’re only trying to survive on the Republican limitations placed on them. For a state that is so well-connected via rail as New Jersey is, it’s a shame our transit infrastructure is so sorely outdated when it comes it’s main gateway into midtown.

      At least we agree that Christie is a teabagger idiot.

      • SpyOne

        I think that DBX’s point was that denying NJTransit the use of the existing tunnels would force the issue, making it perfectly clear that additional tunnels are needed, and that New Jersey’s commuters would be firmly backing new tunnels if it were clear that the alternative is the ferry.

        The current situation cannot stand: there is too much demand and too little supply. As it is, anyone trying to get to New England by train is being inconvenienced so that it is easier to get from New Jersey to Manhattan. This makes no sense at all, as it inconveniences the larger group for the benefit of the smaller one, and the property is already Federally owned (I might be wrong about that).

        Now, everybody seems to agree that the version of the project actually getting built was not the best of all options, but any project already underway can be changed FAR easier than getting a new project approved. By canceling the project, Gov. Christie set the entire process back to the beginning, and any tunnel project will have to start the application for Federal funds over from the beginning.

        I kinda liked the idea for the new tunnel to connect Hoboken to Grand Central. But I’m hardly an expert on the transit needs of New York.

        It seems to me the best option is to take it out of the hands of local politics: Build a new tunnel for Amtrak’s exclusive use. Then have Amtrak offer the old tunnel to New Jersey Transit or whoever else wants it, with the specific proviso that it undergo a refit and refurbishment first, one that would probably require that it be closed for months if not years for the work to be done.
        New Jersey needs to take a long hard look at just how screwed they’ll be if something happens to the existing tunnel that closes it down for a while, and realize that they NEED a “plan B”, and that they had better start building it now, because they really needed it done decades ago.

  • Matt

    Agreed– fuel up the ferries and let New Jersey suffer.

    • Adirondacker12800

      They fueled up the ferries back in the 1890s. But the beginning of World War I the harbor was so congested that NY and NJ were forced to create the Port Authority to deal with it. There isn’t enough dock space or space that could be used for docks, enough rail capacity on the New Jersey waterfront – the only station still in service and connected to the rail network is Hoboken. There isn’t enough harbor and there isn’t enough crosstown street in Manhattan to run buses from the ferries to the the places people want to go.

  • I think the situations in places like Wisconsin and Ohio are a bit different. In those states, the people running for election right now are running against rail as a campaign issue. If elected, I think that would represent some sort of a real voter mandate for terminating the rail projects. Also, the value proposition around better rail connectivity from New Jersey to New York is well understood and obvious. The value of the moderate speed rail falsely labeled as high speed rail to Midwest states is far more speculative, and the ongoing operating costs for what could end up as a white elephant are legitimate concerns.

    • Nathanael

      There is no legitimate dispute over the value of a 110mph rail connection from Madison, WI to Milwaukee, WI (and onward to Chicago). Every cost-benefit analysis shows that it’s got very large benefits — at least to Madison and Wisconsin. The value is not speculative.

      Scott Walker, unfortunately, as your typical false-savings Republican, has a record of refusing to pay for *any* infrastructure, to the point where hunks of city buildings are falling on people’s heads in Milwaukee. So of course he runs against spending any money on infrastructure, useful or not.

  • Edison

    Agreed. You can’t really get mad at the Governor here for making this decision; as bad as it is for the long-term prospects of the state, politically it made all the sense in the world for him, unfortunately. There was a certain segment of the population that was always going to support this move: they don’t take transit, they see the tunnel as some abstract boondogle and they want to lower taxes. However, most damaging to the ARC Tunnel were several ‘advocacy groups’ who sowed doubts about the project in the naive hope that the tunnel would be changed to be all things to all people: go to Penn station, go to grand central, go to sunnyside, etc. Official sounding groups like the NJ Association of Rail Passengers, which is really just a vehicle to issue press releases, not a rider advocacy organization, and the Regional Rail Working Group ,a handful of retired rail enthusiasts,muddied the water by insisting that the tunnel be redesigned, which was not a possibility. The Sierra Club of NJ, whose opposition to the tunnel was always absurd given its environmental benefits, was the worst offender. Their NJ Director traded on the organization’s national credibility to get his name in the paper with ridiculous quotes like the Tunnel to Macy’s Basement and Riders of the Lost ARC. Ultimately he was reigned in by the national sierra club and forced to recant in a letter to NJ’s senators expressing his support for the project, but by then the damage was done, and Sierra Club NJ’s talking points showed up in every critic’s arguments, including the Governor. These groups gave cover to conservative critics who had no intention of funding any tunnel, and sowed enough doubt in the minds of people who would otherwise be inclined to support mass transit that there was no widespread outcry against the decision. They deserve more blame than the Governor for this decision. They should know better.

    • What do you mean “Not possible”? There was an alternatives analysis, which indicated that going to Grand Central was cheaper than building a cavern under Penn Station and would get higher ridership. Then Alt G got killed because of agency turf battles. Back then, the MTA was run by people who’d never ridden trains outside the US, and money was easy; finding the extra money for Alt P was easier than getting Metro-North to share tracks at Grand Central. Today, it’s the opposite.

      Blaming the cancellation on NJ-ARP and the RRWG, who pointed out that ARC could be done more cheaply, is like blaming voter apathy on Jon Stewart, who points out that politicians are idiots.

  • The sad thing is that it took various people’s efforts over the course of twenty years to get it where it was today. That all that work can be undone by one person in 30 days is kind of amazing. There is no gain in any politician to support a long term infrastructure project. Since it will take longer than their time in office to complete the project, they have much more to gain in the short term in talking points by ending it. That’s why I find it hard to see any new large infrastructure projects in America’s future. Sad that it took 50 years to get any new capacity over the Hudson in terms of road or rail and over 100 years for new rail capacity. Meanwhile the population has grown significantly. As you guys have said might as well fire up the ferries.

  • jim

    Two comments on the politics:

    1. In the three weeks between the suspension and the decision, no conservative came to the defense of ARC. No-one on Christie’s side told him this was a bad decision.

    2. Over the course of developing this plan, NJT seems to have alienated most of the other potential stakeholders. Amtrak issued a five-line press release and doesn’t seem to have taken any other action. The non-profit advocacy groups were split. The only major office holder to come out strongly was Sen. Lautenberg. He, Paul Krugman and us aren’t enough.

  • Danny

    Elections have consequences…this is correct. Unfortunately, nobody here seems to think that the election of Christie was one of the consequences of previous elections.

    Sure, this is what you get when you elect Republicans. But Republicans are what you get when you let government grow faster than a crossbreed of Asian Carp and Zebra Mussels.

    • J B

      Yes, we should have just voted for anti-government republicans in the first place. Then the ARC wouldn’t have been canceled, because it never would have even started!

      • Danny

        The decision to elect Republicans is nothing more than a response to reckless spending. Intelligent spending…the kind that produces good outcomes, would not have resulted in a cut-everything Republican backlash. In fact, it likely would not have resulted in any type of Republican.

        Think about it.

        • It’s not completely true, Danny. The cut-everything backlash began even before Obama passed the stimulus. Now, it’s true that if the stimulus had been more effective and promoted a real recovery, then Obama would have remained more popular. But that would’ve required it, among other things, to be larger and more focused on direct cash benefits and aid to states, which have the highest multiplier. Such a bill would have been more controversial and I don’t even know that it could have passed.

          I’ll grant you that Obama could have designed a much more intelligent health care reform bill, which could have made him maintain higher popularity. But it might not have been enough to prevent a cut-everything surge.

        • Nathanael

          I can believe that, but the sad thing is that the reckless spending is driven by Republicans. They are the reason the stimulus package was too small and full of poor measures (tax cuts rather than spending.)

          How do they get away with campaigning *against* intelligent spending, and *for* reckless spending, and then saying “Vote for me, I’ll end reckless spending?” It’s a sleight-of-hand game, where they lie to the voters about which spending is reckless. (Iraq War, anyone?)

          I wish we had an Eisenhower in the Republican Party, but he’d probably be kicked out and called a socialist.

      • Don

        JB- You are wrong. Most of NJT’s big expansion projects were started by Republican governors Kean and Whitman.

    • Nathanael

      State government in the US is not growing, and has not been for quite a while.

      Federal government? Well, Bush (who Christie supported, naturally) caused the biggest expansion of the federal workforce *ever* with the Department of Homeland Security (which doesn’t seem to make us more secure), and the military appears to grow like a cancer (approaching 1 trillion dollars per year — that’s 1,000,000,000), but apart from that, it hasn’t been growing.

      Of course Republicans want to expand the military and Homeland Security….

      Christie’s election is the logical consequence of a mass media which doesn’t bother to teach people anything about reality, and the people who listen to it and believe it. The cause of the media being like that is another question….

      • I would think that a long history of corruption in the New Jersey Democratic party might have something to do with it… Christie won office in a nominally blue state for the same reason that Ahnold was able to win office in California–while the electorate was more blue than red, many at the top had grown complacent and corrupt.

        Some times, the only way to get rid of a political machine is to vote the other party into office. Even if it produces unpleasant results in the interim.

        But when a party’s standard-bearers are guys like Jim Corzine and Grey Davis, it’s not hard to why the other side won.

  • Brian

    Convert a tube of the Lincoln tunnel to rail?

  • jim

    Does anyone know if this action also cancels the construction of the southern Portal Bridge? As far as I know, that bridge would have only connected to the ARC tunnels.

    • No. Portal Bridge is an Amtrak project, increasing both speed and capacity.

      • AlanF

        There are two bridges to be built in the Portal Bridge replacement project. The north bridge is to be a high level 3 track bridge that replaces the 1910 swing bridge for the tracks leading to the current north river tunnels. The 2 track south bridge is primarily to connect to the ARC tunnels, so without the tunnels, the south bridge only then becomes a backup to the north bridge.

        How the ARC cancelation by Christie plays out remains to be seen. Replacing the Portal bridge is very high up on Amtrak’s priority list for the NEC as the current swing bridge, built in 1910, is in poor shape, the max track speed has fallen to 60 mph, and is expensive to keep operating. Hope the cancellation of the ARC project does not cause a delay in building the north Portal bridge while they sort out what to do about the south bridge. But it very well might if Amtrak & NJ Transit & FRA decide to not build the south bridge and have to do some redesign and revise the construction scheduling & funding arrangements.

        • Ocean Railroader

          This bridge project has a lot of things going for it in that it is a moving target and is already under construciton. So it would be very hard for the Republicans to make them stop building while it is being worked on now. It is also mainly on Amtrak’s right of way and not on a section of two states. So it should most likely get to be built.

          • AlanF

            The north Portal bride project will get built. What I am saying is that the (possible?) cancellation of ARC may well cause a delay in the Portal bridge project because of the need to re-evaluate the southern bridge part of the project.

            The Portal bridge project is not fully funded as it stands. I would suggest to Secretary LaHood if the ARC project is killed, to reallocate part of the $3 billion to fully fund the north Portal bridge and also for a detailed engineering study and design on building 2 tunnels that lead directly to the existing Penn Station tracks.

          • jim

            It depends on the contract structure. The first contract(s?) to be let is/are for access platforms this fall. If there are separate contracts for the northern access platform and the southern, then the northern contract can be let on schedule and the southern held. If there’s just the one contract, then there will be a delay. The actual bridge construction contracts are due to be let late next year and depend on the access platforms being in place.

          • Nathanael

            Thanks for the details there, AlanF — I hadn’t worked out the North/South Portal Bridge distinction.

            I think your advice is excellent, though I really would prefer a project on through-running between NJT and LIRR…. I think if that could be done successfully it would break down the turf barriers and alternative G might be seriously considered.

  • Yonah, this is a brilliantly worded piece and a good reminder.

    The problem is that the voters are not voting for politicians based on their agenda. People vote for who they like, or for change. Decorates promised change and they haven’t delivered and so now “change” belongs to Republicans. The issues are secondary.

  • PhD Computer Science

    Flamebait: How many suspension bridges over the Hudson can they build with 10 billion dollars? I’m guessing at least a couple of them, maybe one level can carry rail. Why does it have to be a tunnel? How about one bridge at 42nd st, one at 59st and one at 125th st?

    • Stewart Clamen

      For $10B? Maybe one.

      Also, any bridges over the Hudson to Manhattan would need to be high, so boat traffic could pass under. And how much of the west side of Manhattan would you need to raise to support the off-ramps?

      • PhD Computer Science

        I guess the bridge can unload onto the street as long as it is wide enough, and the rail under follows into a tunnel. Look at the Williamsburg and the Manhattan bridges.

        • Rail also can’t climb grades as steep as cars can. Look how long the approach is for Hell Gate bridge through Queens for an example.

          • PhD Computer Science

            Good point, it is a very long approach but it is also used for freight. It might not be nearly as bad if they ran lighter self-propelled cars.

          • No, it’s still pretty bad. Mainline EMUs can climb 3.5% grades, more than freight trains but still much less than cars. Unless a bridge or tunnel was built specifically for rail, as the GWB and the free East River Bridges were, it probably won’t be able to handle trains.

        • Stewart Clamen

          Also, Manhattan doesn’t need more street traffic. Maybe your dream bridge should lead exclusively to multistory bus/tram terminal – a Port Authority on steroids.

    • What Stewart said. In dense urban areas, tunnels are cheaper than bridges, because bridges require extensive property takings. The main cost of ARC is not the tunnel, which is just $2.4 billion, but the cavern.

      • DBX

        And hence why this project was so destabilized when the commuter rail agencies, starting with MTA, wouldn’t play nice with each other over Alternative G, which would have been an RER-type scheme connecting both Penn and Grand Central, and connecting NJT, LIRR and MTA to one another.

      • DBX

        [forgot to add]
        You use the existing stations, and you save the money to build new ones (e.g. the cavern) and provide a far more useful service to commuters with potentially lower operating cost.

    • Drewski

      Have you maybe ever seen any of the locations you mentioned? Whether in person or on Google?

  • jim

    With the latest development (see Yonah’s update), I wonder if what we are seeing is political theatre.

    The FTA started this with their public questioning about possible cost overruns. Now Ray LaHood, FTA’s boss, is riding to the rescue. Pointedly, Christie described the options as “to potentially salvage a trans Hudson tunnel project” (my emphasis). If in the end there is a tunnel built that goes to Penn Station for markedly less than $8.7B, there will be three winners: Christie, who will have shown himself a stern guardian of the people’s money, LaHood, who will have rescued an important project and Amtrak, which will get better trans-Hudson access. There will be one loser: NJT, which won’t get its own station (and possibly won’t get the Kearny Yard).

    Convenient for LaHood and Christie, the main actors in this drama.

    Oh, and you know that NJ has an $885M 2010 HSIPR application in the hopper “for improvements between Trenton and New York.” FRA hasn’t acted on the 2010 HSIPR applications yet, despite the September 30th deadline. I wonder if that’s part of the play, too.

  • Dan

    Eventually, the tunnel will be built. The existing capacity has been exceeded. We are still in a nasty depression, and people everywhere are afraid, trying to hold on to whatever they may have left. When necessity eclipses expedience, a way will be found.

    One suggestion would be for poliicians / government officials do their job of allocating funds, while independant engineering firms manage the projects – with oversight of course. Too much power is being put in one place, and a place that has historically shown inefficiency. Repeating the same actions and expecting a different result – insanity.

    Cities overseas on both sides of the ponds have been able to manage much larger projects for much less. Mass transit systems in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong exist at a profit. Just look at Yonah’s article about the trams in Besancon. We need to take the best of what has consistently worked and apply it to our needs, with variations to reasonably suit our situations. Ask yourself this. If you are running a business, and the object of that business is building and running the ARC tunnel so as to serve your customers, would you allow the status quo to continue, or would you do things differently?

    • jim

      Eventually, the tunnel will be built. The existing capacity has been exceeded.

      But it isn’t currently. Unless I’ve miscounted, since the NJT service cuts earlier this year, NJT at peak sends 18 revenue trains an hour through the tunnels. Amtrak another four. With the upgraded signal system, the tunnels are supposed to be able to handle 25 tph.

      If Christie keeps denying adequate operating funds to NJT, another tunnel won’t be needed on his watch. He’s at least consistent.

      • Adirondacker12800

        The tunnels handle 26 per hour in December. They may not have added the traditional extra December trains this past year or two but there have been times in the past when there were periods when 26 trains pass through the tunnels in 60 minutes.

  • W. K. Lis

    Oil is heading to US$200 per barrel. This isn’t speculation but hard fact. Yet there are politicians, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who can’t or won’t read the information in front of or available to them. They think there is an endless supply of gasoline so alternative options, like public transit, don’t have to considered.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Gas could be free. The automobile bridges and tunnels are at capacity. Have been for a long time. New capacity has been needed for decades. Rail is the cheapest option to provide it.

    • Don

      At $200/bbl for oil, we will be making gasoline and #2 diesel from coal and natural gas. Heck, we’d be doing it at $100/bbl, but the price just doesn’t seem stay there long enough for any investment to occur.

      NJ is not like states like GA or even FL. They “get it” when it comes to passenger rail and transit. The big ramp-up of NJT was started by a Republican and has continued under both R and D governors. This is not the case of a conservative who is trying to dismantle transit.

      • Drewski

        Well…Georgia wasn’t the best example of a state that “gets it” about rail service. Remember GRTA?

      • Nathanael

        While previous Republican governors of NJ have “gotten it” when it comes to passenger rail, I see no evidence that *Christie* does — he behaves in a very road-warrior fashion.

  • Gov. Christie’s initial decision to shut down the project was a great statement to politics as usual. The plan cost more than was agreed upon to pay for it. While he wanted to support it, he could not in good faith, as a steward for taxpayer dollars. His reaction to the over budget has been a miracle in disguise. Because of this, Transportation Sec. LaHood has agreed to look at ways to reduce the tunnels cost. I do not believe however that because he opposes the tunnel due to the budget, that he someway just does not care about moving New Jersey forward. What should be focused on, instead of political bickering, is that because of his opposition; those behind the projects creation have gone back to the drawing board to find unnecessary expenses in the budget plan. At this point, because of Gov. Christie’s opponency, the tunnel will be created with a budget and Gov.Christie will yet again fulfill his promise to be fiscally responsible.

    • jim

      He didn’t need LaHood’s intervention to relook the project. “[T]hose behind the projects creation” work for him. He could have told them to go back to the drawing board directly. He could have given them a dollar bogie and told them to find a subset of the project within the approved EIS that fit inside that budget. He had full authority to do that. That’s what being governor means. He didn’t do that. Instead he simply said it’s too expensive, off with its head.

  • Michael

    A similar situation is happening in Maryland. Incumbent democratic candidate o’malley wants to build two desperately needed light rail lines in Baltimore city and the Washington dc
    Suburbs. His republican challenger ehrlich has pledged to cancel the projects because “we can’t afford them” (maryland is also one of the wealthiest states). I would encourage everyone to go out and vote o’malley in November, otherwise these projects will be set back at least a decade and will cost millions more in the future.

  • Chris

    “This is why decisions of importance can not be left to the the voters. No Republicans / conservatives / tea baggers should ever be allowed to hold office above the local level. By whatever means necessary…”

    I didn’t realize that we in the US are living in the USSR, circa 1919, as the above post suggests.

    Keep in mind that Gov. Christie was elected and was able to get away (so far) with his decision due to backlash against the current administration’s sky-high spending. Basically, if Obama hadn’t overreached and run up $1.7 trillion deficits, the GOP would not have come roaring back to life.

    • Rick

      Sounds like tea-speak to me. The GOP didn’t care a whit about Bush’s deficits.

    • Nathanael

      More believers in Republican propaganda visiting? The deficits were run up by Bush, as anyone who actually follows government can tell you.

      Meanwhile the nutters in the Republican Party are demanding that the rock-bottom-low tax rates on dividends and capital gains (starting at zero percent!) be extended forever, so as to keep the giant hole in the federal budget going, and benefit trust fund babies at the expense of working people.

      Even I think it’s a dangerously bad idea, and I *benefit* from the absurd dividend tax breaks.

    • Drewski

      Chris, New Jersey and Ohio are very similar in one respect. Both have very fragmented local government. Whatever arguments there are for “local control,” it ultimately works out to an immense amount of money being spent to keep duplicatory bureaucracies alive. In both states, there is a strong argument to be made that the status quo functions as a permanent and bipartisan patronage system. Yes, New Jersey has had questions about fiscal responsibility at the state level, but remember that some of this is because New Jersey is more likely than most states to provide local services at the state level. Christie’s goal is to gut state government, without touching the hundreds of local school districts or local governments which would never survive without state subsidies. Never mind that Christie’s attack on state employees and state spending has more to do with hatred of unions than with fiscal responsibility. Christie’s ideological fellow-traveler, newly-elected Ohio Governor John Kasich, is a former Lehman Brothers investment banker who seeks to privatize as much of state government as possible. In Ohio’s case, a state tax burden ranked 33rd in the US isn’t onerous on a per capita income ranked 26th in the US. Ohio has high local taxes, yet Kasich has identified state spending as the problem. It’s ideology and union-busting, not good government. Christie and Kasich sing from the same hymnal, and neither one has a demonstrated record beyond their public statements. Both have made multiple statements that focus on ideology more than assessment of the roots of high government costs. Neither one shows any inclination to address the true expense–fragmented local government–because both know it would be a huge political headache. (Not that you see any Dems ready to do it either.) Still, Christie has put ideology and a political fiction ahead of New Jersey’s long-term infrastructure needs, and it would be no different if it were a Democrat arguing from a populist anti-rail position, as happened in L.A. with the Bus Riders Union.

  • Don

    A couple of points:

    1. The whole ARC tunnel mess is the effluent of the chopping up what was PRR into Amtrak, NJT and Conrail. Instead of getting a coherent network-based plan, we get a bunch of plans that are optimized for each agency which sub-optimizes the whole.

    2. The great NJT rail expansion began under governor Tom Kean and continued full bore under a more conservative Republican, Christie Whitman. It has included lots of uber-expensive equipment and some monumental infrastructure additions, the best (worst?) of which were conceived under Whitman.

    3. As a NJ-ex pat and frequent visitor, I can vouch for the really crummy state of the existing highways. Big chunks of I-295 and most of I-195 are just horrendous. I can understand a politician (or even a sane person) thinking that there is a need for some basic highway repair work in NJ. I don’t think anybody is talking about highway expansion at this point.

    4. NJ is about as moderate, pro-transit and pro-passenger rail state as you will find. So ARC may be dead, for now. But, certainly savvy NJ politicians know that additional rail capacity to Manhattan is a matter of when and not if.

  • Brian

    Doesn’t the Port Authority control the existing tunnels? If so, the Authority should entertain converting an existing car tunnel or two to rail. Then, the Authority could show Jersey there are consequences for backing out of partnerships.

    • Norman

      The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) does indeed control the passenger car-based bridges and tunnels that span New Jersey and NYC – the GWB, Holland, Lincoln, Outerbridge, etc. I suppose they could convert an existing car tunnel, but there are several problems:

      1. You’ll need to build the infrastructure to link the tunnels to the existing rail network
      2. The PANYNJ is jointly controlled by NYS and NJ, so any attempt to impose “consequences” on NJ will be shot down by..you guessed it, Gov. Christie himself

      As Don mentioned before, there is a multiplicity of transport authorities that operate in the tri-state area which are in turn, controlled by different entities:

      New York Thruway (Thruway and Tappan Zee)
      NJ Turnpike Authority (NJ Turnpike, GSP)
      PANYNJ (Path, Bridges & Tunnels)
      MTA (Subways, Metro North, LIRR)
      NJTransit, etc.

      It’s a mess that should be coordinated as traffic/rail in one part of the NY metro region affects all the others.

    • David K

      The Port authority is controlled by the governors of New York and New Jersey, requiring both to be in agreement, so they can’t operate against the wishes of Governor Christie.

    • The existing road tunnels have grades built for cars, not trains; they can’t be converted. The GWB could have its lower deck repurposed for rail, but there would have to be major work on both sides to connect such a line to the existing network.

      • Nathanael

        IIRC the Lincoln Tunnel has sharp *curves* built for cars (even less convertible to rail than steep grades) as well as the steep grades built for cars. The Holland Tunnel, of course, comes out in the wrong part of Manhattan.

  • DBX

    The point is that I’m not quite sure what else will wake people up to what these nutballs are doing. The tunnels are merely the most flagrant example of a broad national trend of troglodyte behavior by the Republicans. Other than Bill Brady in Illinois I can’t think of a single statewide Republican candidate in a close race this year who is unequivocally in favor of boosting rail infrastructure. The whole point of suggesting ferries is to point out why tunnels are needed. Passenger use of the Penn Tunnels has quadrupled in the last 25 years, but they are in rough shape. At some point they will need to be taken out of service and rehabbed, and the longer the augmentation is delayed, there’s an increasing risk of the only available alternative being a floating one.

    It’s also a shame, but we would never have been this delayed or over budget on ARC had the bureaucratic dead wood that runs public transportation in the New York area prioritized building their customer base over preserving their pathetic little turf. And, sad to report, there are too many other examples of this in our various governmental bodies across the United States.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Passenger use of the Penn Tunnels has quadrupled in the last 25 years…… that runs public transportation in the New York area prioritized building their customer base

      Which is it? Has ridership quadrupled in the past 25 years or have they been busy protecting their turf?
      … and it’s the North River tunnels or the Hudson River tunnels or the tunnels to New Jersey….

      • Nathanael

        Both, Adirondacker. Ridership has quadrupled *despite* the turf wars. Can you imagine what it would be like *without* the turf wars?

  • Blayze

    The deadwoods that run the New York area’s transit systems (the MTA) are all located in Albany. They are doing terrible jobs at maintaining their aging fleet and stations, all the while hiking fares and providing more mediocre to downright poor service. It’s the same thing that is happening to New Jersey Transit. While Cuomo won’t be a savior to the city’s transit systems, he won’t hurt it as Carl Paladino would, who as we’ve seen, is the worst example of teabagger. Thankfully he’s killed his chances and just looks like a grumpy old man.

    Instead of ferry service for New Jersey, the only other option would be the PATH trains that connect in Newark, Hoboken, and Jersey City. Diverting all rail service to them would be possible, as most of the heavy rail passes through the major PATH stations in Newark and Hoboken but it would be an unpleasant transfer and pointlessly crammed commute aboard the PATH’s dinky little subway cars. The stations would be jammed, more PATH trains would be required to facilitate the rush hour foot traffic. Not to mention, many would have to transfer to different PATH trains to reach midtown or the financial district, or wherever their intended destination might be.

    As much as Penn Station is a complete failure in terms of design, it nonetheless is a national hub and the region’s transit gateway. Cutting off NJTransit there would be a far more drastic move as more people enter and leave the city on New Jersey Transit trains compared to those using Amtrak trains. If any service were to be cut, it should be Amtrak. Amtrak passengers could depart at Newark and ride NJ Transit trains into NYC and then reboard another Amtrak train at Penn and proceed to points North. It would be less disruptive as less people use Amtrak trains, and considering NYC is the major destination for most Northeast Corridor passengers, it wouldn’t be that big a deal anyway.

    • Adirondacker12800

      No one has transferred from a conventional train to the PATH system from a conventional train in Jersey City in decades. Transferring at Hoboken or Newark is not an option because the trains are already at capacity carrying people who already do that. There’s no way to wedge all the people who stay on the trains to get to Penn Station in New York onto PATH trains. Unless you four track the PATH system….

  • Andrew D. Smith

    The discussion about the probable tunnel construction on these transport blogs has disappointed me tremendously — because, aside from a few voices, it utterly ignores the massive, massive problems with this project and it substitutes angry denunciations for productive suggestions.

    First, as only a couple commentators have mentioned, this was almost certainly not the tunnel configuration that could have done most to increase train capacity and interconnectedness throughout the region. Not anywhere close. If taxpayers were to have spent billions on a tunnel, it shouldn’t have been this tunnel.

    Second, the projected costs were insane (even if the tunnel proposal had been better) and Christie was right to worry that they would go billions over. Most large public projects (and a lot of big private ones) go way, way over.

    If you guys really want to see anything built, you need to stop whining about nasty Republicans and start thinking seriously about how to bring capital construction costs in this country back to international norms.

    Chris Christie is not half so much your enemy as the forces that have made infrastructure construction nearly unaffordable in America. If this was a $3 billion tunnel, it would be built right now, so use your anger in a productive way.

    • jim

      this was almost certainly not the tunnel configuration that could have done most to increase train capacity

      But it was. The new station permitted the full use of the pair of tunnels. Running the new tunnels into Penn Station requires that the tunnels be used at at most 75% of capacity, since trains trying to get back to New Jersey will obstruct trains trying to come in from New Jersey.

      There are valid criticisms to be made of the plan, but this is simply wrong.

      • Andrew D. Smith

        Unless I am seriously misunderstanding the tunnel plan that passed — which is possible as I’ll happily grant that I know far less about the details of specific projects than many readers here — ridership projections were a lot less than a cheaper tunnel/station expansion at Grand Central, an area of town where people actually work on one that’s pretty hard to reach from Jersey these days. A direct Grand Central link would be a massive, massive improvement over more frequent service to Penn, not only because of easier access to a different part of Manhattan but far easier access to upstate and Connecticut.

        Also, and you can again correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the configuration and ownership of this tunnel designed to make it pretty much off limits to Amtrak, which is also in need of more capacity in NYC? How can the federal government pay so much for a tunnel that would eliminate any hopes of serious regional rail improvement (unless you think someone will pay for an extra tunnel)? And, how can you add a tunnel that makes through service to Long Island impossible? (Yes, I realize it would be hard, hard work to get dual agency through service, but NY metro area transportation would be infinitely better if you could get out to towns on the other side without switching in NYC.)

        • Adirondacker12800

          ridership projections were a lot less than a cheaper tunnel/station expansion at Grand Central,

          Penn Station is in the west side of Manhattan. Grand Central is on the east side of Manhattan. New Jersey is west of Manhattan. Tunneling farther and building a similar station wouldn’t be cheaper. It can be done from the currently planned terminal to Grand Central after New York City finishes building it’s new water tunnel. NJTransit can then build near the old water tunnel without risk of cutting off Manhattan’s water supply.

          tunnel designed to make it pretty much off limits to Amtrak

          No. Amtrak trains won’t go there under normal operating conditions but they can.

          Amtrak, which is also in need of more capacity in NYC?

          Most of the capacity is currently being used by NJTransit. If NJTransit can move trains to the new terminal Amtrak can use the capacity freed up.

          The current bottleneck is the capacity of the tunnels. Once there’s more tunnel the constraint becomes how many pedestrians you can move into and out of Penn Station, the main reason they want to build more platforms and along with more platforms more entrances/exits. Once you have enough tunnel, platform and entrances the constraint is the capacity of the sidewalks leading to the station.

          • David Keddie

            While this may seem counterintuitive, the original analysis found that alternative G, a tunnel connecting to Grand Central Terminal, would be less expensive and have greater revenue than the final plan.

            http://www.nj-arp.org/arc3.html

            The current plan is so expensive because of the need to construct the extra terminal, whereas Grand Central has the most platforms of any train station in the world. The reason alt G was rejected was due to a combination of an inability to come to agreement with the MTA and a desire to avoid the construction and eminent domain troubles of a cut-and-cover tunnel in Penn Station rather than a deep tunnel to a deep terminal. In other words, New Jersey Transit, New York City and the MTA can’t get along so billions extra get spent on a far worse plan. If the MTA and NJT just agreed to work towards combining rail lines so that trains could run through Penn Station instead of treating it as a terminal then capacity could be increased 25% at far less cost. Please read the excellent series of posts by Alon Levy at Transport Politic:

            http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/07/16/regional-rail-for-new-york-city-part-i/

            What we need is an integration of commuter rail run as a complete network financially motivated to maximize ridership, rather than as cumbersome bureaucracies incapable of cooperation and beholden to political interests. If politicians such as Senator Lautenberg worked as zealously for an integrated system and the overturning of low-density zoning as they do for union wages then their support for transit might be more credible, or at least more successful.

          • Adirondacker12800

            whereas Grand Central has the most platforms of any train station in the world.

            Unfortunately trains coming from New Jersey wouldn’t be able to use them.

          • Nathanael

            Adirondacker12800, “alternative G” was precisely in order to connect tunnels from Penn Station (and thus from New Jersey), to Grand Central.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They would have been building a cavern under Madison Ave south of 42nd Street if I remember correctly. They would not have been bringing trains to the existing platforms in Grand Central. The ARC plan was designed so that when Water Tunnel 3 is complete they could extend it to the Grand Central area.

          • You remember wrong – Alt G would’ve connected to the Grand Central lower level. Check the alternatives analysis.

          • Stewart Clamen

            Here’s how Alt-G was dismissed, from ARC MIS Summary Report (2003), that Alon refers us to:

            Although the conversion of Metro-North and NJ TRANSIT operations from stub-end to flow-through movements was determined to be physically feasible, there would be impacts on NYCT subway structures and the operations support systems at Grand Central Terminal. Uncertainties over the extent to which these impacts could be mitigated could not be resolved satisfactorily during the Phase 3 effort. Alternative G would offer the smallest incremental increase in trans-Hudson train capacity among the alternatives and would create complex train operations that could affect the operational reliability of the respective railroads. Construction of Alternative G would require negotiation of easements or purchase of a large number of Manhattan properties. In addition, the physical impacts of construction on the ability to maintain existing operations appears to be significant.

            (The subway reference is to a relocation of the Lexington local line southbound at one point.)

    • jim

      the projected costs were insane

      The costs were projected by New Jersey employees, who work for the Governor.

      Christie was right to worry that they would go billions over

      The contracts would have been managed by New Jersey employees who work for the Governor.

      What is objectionable about Christie’s behaviour is that he is pretending he has nothing to do with the actual governing of New Jersey. That there is this amorphous blob out there called the government that is doing wicked things and he, Christie, is going to stop it.

      If Christie really thinks that the people who estimate costs are deliberately misestimating them, he needs to fire them and hire people who will estimate correctly. If Christie really believes that his contract administrators will let contractors massively overrun costs, then he needs to fire them and hire people who will administer contracts correctly. That’s his job. But he doesn’t really think these things. He’s posing.

      • Don

        At least Christie is honest enough to actually say “no” when he means “no”. The standard political dodge is to “postpone” projects and fund some nickel and dime “further study”. That kills any forward progress of an kind as it puts projects in limbo – they don’t go forward, but neither do any alternatives.

        This at least opens the door to “what’s next”.

  • AT

    Its amazing how people here blame Republicans for all their problems. The problem with the tunnel is nobody can justify the expense. Most NJ commuters take the bus into New York, not the train. The areas where these commuters come from have all asked for a railway lines in the past 10 years and told no. The best example was the MOM project, which was killed by the DEMOCRATS. But were suppose to fund an $8.7 billion tunnel. 75% of NJ’s workforce is employed within our (NJ) borders, and many have no direct or any public transport at all. If you going to spend $9 billion on mass transit, there is no shortage of viable projects in this state that could use the investment. Moreover, it wouldn’t hurt if NJ evaluate all the road/mass transit connections into NYC, and come up with some options with moving people across the Hudson besides pinning its hopes on this tunnel.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Its amazing how people here blame Republicans for all their problems.

      This problem, canceling the tunnel, is being touted as a great achievement of the the Republican Governor.

      The problem with the tunnel is nobody can justify the expense.

      NJTransit, the Federal government and the Port Authority all independently decided to kick in money. Not nobodies when it comes to funding infrastructure.

      Most NJ commuters take the bus into New York, not the train.

      Most New Jerseyans don’t commute at all. The ones who commute, the majority of them don’t commute to New York. Many of the ones commuting to New York take the train. Many take a bus. Some even take ferries. There are even people crazy enough to drive into Manhattan during rush hour. The cheapest way to get the most people into Manhattan is by building a new rail tunnel.

      The areas where these commuters come from have all asked for a railway lines in the past 10 years and told no.

      Because without a new tunnel there’s no way to get more trains into Manhattan. Kinda pointless to start train service for commuters to NYC if the train doesn’t go to NYC.

      Moreover, it wouldn’t hurt if NJ evaluate all the road/mass transit connections into NYC, and come up with some options with moving people across the Hudson besides pinning its hopes on this tunnel.

      They examined 137 different options, 136 if you disregard the option examined usually called “no build”. No build is not an option. More buses would be more expensive. More private automobiles would be even more expensive, wouldn’t have any place to park in Manhattan and would violate clean air agreements.

      Rail is the cheapest alternative. Probably the alternative that is most reliable and gets people home quicker than the options.

    • Drewski

      AT, nothing is going to move as many people as quickly as expanded rail access. More than one person here has acknowledged that the death of ARC isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If a large project like this doesn’t allow for maximal connection–like Penn Station AND Grand Central, that its effectiveness is limited. You want a political spin? Not only has Christie pretty much bragged about killing the project, he shows little or no interest in any significant transit investment in the state in the near future. He wants to spend more on roads, in a state with over a thousand people per square mile. He was the one who sought to make it political. Also, as with newly-elected Gov. Kasich in Ohio, Christie fixates on New Jersey’s state spending when the real fiscal problem is the high cost of fractured local government. In both states, the state bears funding responsibility for these expensive local services. When a governor cancels an infrastructure project, and that governor has a pattern of action which shows a bias against transit and in favor of highways, then it definitely becomes an ideological matter. Christie is making an effort to represent his party as the one less interested in transit funding. Nobody here made that claim for him–his actions speak on their own.

    • Nathanael

      I’m not going to say great things about the past behavior of Democrats in New Jersey with respect to transportation.

      That said, Christie seems set to be even worse. :-P

      Anyone else for election reform so that more than two parties can be viable (see Duverger’s Law for why they’re not now)? Reweighted range voting, perhaps? :-)

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