Friday, April 20, 2012

Amtrak's Gateway Tunnel Project Moves Forward As Recriminations Continue Over Cancelled ARC Project

My views on the ill-conceived ARC tunnel project are well known (just check out the label linked below). It was a poorly conceived project that would end up saddling New Jersey taxpayers with cost overruns that the Federal Transit Administration conceded could end up being anywhere from $1 to more than $4 billion over the $8.7 billion budget (which itself was higher than initial $5 billion estimated for the job). NJ Transit claims that they could hold costs to $10 billion simply didn't hold water, not when everyone was expecting it to run much higher considering the initial outlays were already running significantly overbudget.

Following Governor Christie's cancellation, Amtrak came forward with their own project - Gateway - which would not only provide high speed rail access through to New York Penn Station, but would give NJ Transit additional slots. The Gateway project is starting to get funds to do initial planning and design studies underway. While NJ Transit wouldn't necessarily get as many slots under the proposal as in ARC, the benefits greatly outweighed the fact that NJ Transit simply couldn't handle the project as NJ Transit's Jim Weinstein noted.

All that hasn't stopped New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg from sniping away at Governor Christie for claiming that New Jersey is suffering from the results of that cancellation at hearings relating to Port Authority fare/toll hikes.

It's partisan politics at its core - and that continued yesterday during hearings Lautenberg held in Congress with the Port Authority on the hot seat. It's interesting that during the hearing that Lautenberg's role as a Port Authority trustee came into focus considering that Lautenberg was busy complaining about fare and toll hikes all while Lautenberg was granted an exemption from tolls because he was a former trustee. That's hypocrisy in motion, and Lautenberg's actions and policy decisions helped form the current financial situation that required significant fare hikes (though the bulk of the fare/toll hikes are resulting from the Port Authority's cost overruns on the misbegotten PATH transit hub at the World Trade Center - the fare/toll hike nearly matches dollar for dollar the cost overruns).

The fact remains that Lautenberg could have prevented the cancellation had he done his job and secured the federal government's obligation to cover cost overruns - or to get New York to join in covering the costs for the project. Instead, he has decided to focus his ire on Governor Christie. It's so much easier to focus on partisan politics than doing the hard work of getting everyone who stands to benefit from the project to contribute - even if the contribution is conditional on covering potential cost overruns (that proponents could argue wouldn't materialize, but which were sufficient to scare off the FTA and federal government from covering them - that really speaks volumes about the nature of the cost overruns expected).

At the same time, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has thrown his own ideas on the table for resurrecting a commuter tax on New Jersey residents who commute and work in Manhattan to fund mass transit projects in New York. He went on to complain about Christie's cancellation of the project, but where was Stringer to call on the City to contribute to the ARC project to keep it running? He was silent.

If the project was as vital as Stringer was saying, where was his voice to call on the City to find a way to fund the project.

It's all well and good to say that you've got a vision for New York City mass transit projects and finding a more stable revenue source, but when you've got the opportunity to get a project done that has been needed for years - and need to address the funding, you're missing in action. This too comes down to politics, which in Stringer's case is firing up the base for a potential run for Mayor to succeed Mike Bloomberg.

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