Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Christie Administration Now Probed on Port Authority Funding of Pulaski Skyway Rehab

Media outlets continue reporting that Gov. Chris Christie and his administration is being investigated for how the Port Authority funded the Pulaski Skyway rehabilitation project.

New Jersey got the Port Authority to shift funds originally meant for the ARC tunnel to go to rebuild the Pulaski Skyway. That happened when Gov. Christie cancelled the ARC project in 2010, and it's a decision I agreed with because NJ Transit could never keep to a capital budget and New York was not contributing to a project that would benefit immensely from the added tunnels, as well as the fact that the project design was flawed with no through-running trains to Sunnyside Yards for maximizing train access into Manhattan during the morning rush hour and additional trains for the PM rush back to New Jersey.

The Pulaski Skyway was one of the first superhighways designed and opened in 1932. It connected Newark to Jersey City across the Hackensack River and Meadowlands, along with providing direct access to the Holland Tunnel. The bridge was determined to need massive rehabilitation, particularly after the collapse of the bridge in Minnesota a few years back.

The rehabilitation project is indeed a worthy and needed project, but New Jersey didn’t want to raise its own taxes or fees to cover it. That would have put Gov. Christie in a tough position had he wanted to run for President. So, it appears that Gov. Christie and his appointees at the Port Authority got the Port Authority to issue a ruling that the Skyway was an access road to the Lincoln Tunnel, which would be a valid use of Port Authority funds. But the reality is that it’s a stretch to call it a Lincoln Tunnel access road since it directly leads to the Holland.

This has consequences for the bond offerings by the Port Authority since it would be a material misrepresentation of what the bond offerings were for.

Now, a complicating factor is that the Port Authority doesn’t answer to Christie alone. It’s a bistate agency and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo would ordinarily need to sign off on the deal through his representatives on the Board.

Bridgegate showed how the system inside the Port Authority has completely broken down and how New York's appointees on the authority were outside the loop for the GWB lane closures. Is it possible they’re outside the loop on the Skyway funding deal?

I consider that possible but highly implausible because all the major news outlets reported on how Port Authority funds were going to be reallocated to do the Pulaski project. That would seemingly implicate Cuomo as well. These issues should have been raised back then and there were questions about how the money was reallocated, though no one appeared to have raised the question about whether the reallocation was legal from a securities offering perspective.

How wouldn’t it implicate Cuomo? If the New Jersey cronies were the ones who ginned up the legal authority to shift the funds, ignoring other counsel, then the prosecutors might be able to isolate the culpability for the deal to Christie and his allies inside the Port Authority.

Frankly, the way Gov. Cuomo has screwed with regional transit and played games with MTA funding, I wouldn't be shocked if both were involved in these actions and that there was a quid pro quo for the Port Authority to spend a similar amount of funds on New York based projects.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Turning the Screws; Prosecutors Looking at Indicting Gov. Christie's Inner Circle

Esquire Magazine is reporting that the federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Paul Fishman, is preparing to indict four of Gov. Chris Christie's inner circle over their actions relating to Bridgegate.
The indictments are pending against Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, who were at the Port Authority, Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien, who were in the governor's office.

You could see the writing on the wall now for months, but Fishman is actually looking at getting evidence of wrongdoing by Christie himself.

Fishman’s challenge is to nail down specific criminal charges on several fronts -- the diversion of Port Authority money to fund New Jersey road and bridge projects; the four-day rush-hour closures of George Washington Bridge lanes in Ft. Lee; and a web of real-estate deals spun by David Samson, long a Christie crony, when he chaired the PA’s Board of Commissioners as Christie’s appointee. (One such deal, a stalled office-tower development in Hoboken, New Jersey, is central to a claim that Christie’s lieutenant governor told the town’s mayor that the state would withhold Hurricane Sandy relief aid from Hoboken if the mayor didn’t sign off on the development project.)

Whatever Christie says or does -- and whatever potential donors or Jimmy Fallon and his viewers think -- the question that truly matters is whether Fishman’s pursuit leads to the governor himself. Christie’s Port appointees -- not only Samson, but former PA Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and his oddball sidekick David Wildstein -- all face near-certain indictment and are being pressed to hand up Christie, as is the governor’s former chief counsel, Charlie McKenna.

Wildstein, portrayed as the mastermind behind Ft. Lee’s traffic problems, has made proffers to Fishman’s investigators -- hoping to trade information to the prosecutor in exchange for gentler legal treatment -- but Fishman has cut no deals with anyone so far, and the looming indictments have encouraged Christie’s PA appointees to sing. “Don’t underestimate what Wildstein has on Christie,” says one source. “And Wildstein and Baroni have both turned on Samson. If Samson doesn't give Fishman Christie, Samson is toast.”
Bridgegate opened a window into the inner workings at the Port Authority and the New Jersey governor's office, and the back-room deals that exceeded the authority of the bistate agency to fund projects outside its scope.

In particular, I'm talking about the Pulaski Skyway reconstruction. It was a much needed project, but Gov. Christie didn't want to use state money (which would have required increasing taxes/fees in the state to cover the empty transportation trust fund). So, his office concocted a rationale for using the former ARC tunnel funds that the Port Authority had set aside to use on the skyway reconstruction.

So, the indictments are all pending, but the question is who will crack first. My bet is still on Bridget Kelly, who was the only one of the four to actually be fired. The rest were "retired" and allowed to resign with full benefits. That would lead to a whole lot of resentment against the Governor.

But there's an additional wrinkle, and that's David Samson, who was also at the Port Authority. Samson is the big fish that would lead to Christie himself. If Samson turn's on Christie, then that would likely lead to indictments against Christie himself.

Of course, it's rather ironic that Fishman is Christie's successor at the federal prosecutor's office, and that Christie used similar actions to indict corrupt politicians while federal prosecutor.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Time To Fix New Jersey's Broken Transportation Policy

Gov. Chris Christie refuses to fix the state's chronically underfunded transportation system out of the state's own revenues. This includes roads, bridges, transit, and rail systems. Rather than increase the state's low motor fuel taxes and risk the ire of Republicans who would complain about the tax hike, he's used his sway at the Port Authority to use money originally tasked to building a new rail tunnel into Manhattan to fix several bridges that aren't part of the Port Authority's mission, including the historic Pulaski Skyway.

Fixing those bridges were overdue, but it means that funds that should have gone to expanding the state's crumbling infrastructure were instead devoted to projects that should have been covered by the state's transportation trust fund but for the fact that the fund is essentially bankrupt with no relief in sight.

Christie orchestrated a fare and toll hike at the Port Authority and then turned around to use some of those funds to go and fix the Pulaski Skyway, Wittpenn Bridge, and several other roads that are considered approaches to the Holland Tunnel, even though they are miles from the facility itself.

That's why New Jersey residents need to take matters into their own hands. If Gov. Christie wont increase the motor fuel tax or raise revenues to dedicate to transportation matters in the state, then voters need to petition to amend the state constitution to raise the needed revenue for dedicated purposes.

By fixing the state's own revenue situation, it can help get the Port Authority to refocus on the bistate projects it was designed to do. It would free up revenues to maintain and expand its facilities, including the Port Authority Bus Terminal, contemplate assisting in the construction of the Gateway Tunnel to double capacity on the Northeast Corridor, and expand PATH to Newark Airport while keeping its infrastructure in a state of good repair.

Currently, New Jersey imposes a 10.5 cent per gallon gasoline tax and 13.5 cent per gallon diesel fuel tax. It's a rate that is unchanged since 1989, and the purchasing power has seriously eroded. Together, they generate about $540 million annually. This amount has actually fallen in recent years because of declining driving and increased fuel economy.

If we assume that drivers will maintain their current amount of driving, a tax increase of $.10 per gallon on each of the gasoline and diesel tax would potentially raise about $500 million annually. It would not only replenish the transportation trust fund, but it would enable the state to fund sorely needed road and rail projects without resorting to deficit funding, fiscal gimmicks, and raiding the Port Authority to do projects.

To this end, voters should consider the following ballot question:

Constitutional amendment to set a state minimum wage with annual cost of living increases.
Do you approve amending the State Constitution to set a state motor fuel tax equal to 20.5 cents per gallon for gasoline and 23.5 cents per gallon for diesel and other motor fuels. The amendment also requires bi-annual increases in that rate if there are annual increases in the cost of living.

The interpretive statement would run something along the lines of:
This amendment to the State Constitution sets the State gasoline and motor fuel taxes at a level sufficient to fund state transportation projects. Half the funds would be dedicated to road, bridge, and tunnel projects across the state, while the other half of the funds would be devoted to supporting mass transit projects, including NJ Transit operations that have the effect of reducing motor vehicle usage, congestion, and pollution statewide. The level of the tax would be adjusted every other year to account for cost of living adjustments.
Residents know that the state's roads, bridges, and tunnels, are a mess, but Gov. Christie refuses to take the necessary actions to improve the structural problems with how the state funds its transportation and infrastructure budgets. Putting the question to voters would go a long way to fixing the problems.

For those concerned that the tax would be an economic hit, one should also count the economic harm done by having a crumbling infrastructure, where roads and bridges can no longer handle modern traffic loads, road damage to vehicles costs drivers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in damage, and the state can't address its backlog of critical projects that need adequate funding.

The tax increase proposed would still mean that motor fuel purchased in New Jersey is cheaper than those of all the neighboring states by a wide margin. Including federal tax of 18.4 cents, New Jersey regular fuel costs motorists 33 cents a gallon in taxes overall. In Pennsylvania, it’s about 60 cents, and in New York nearly 70 cents, the group says. The 10 cent hike would still mean that New Jersey drivers would pay nearly 30 cents less per gallon than New York and 17 cents less than Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Time To Eliminate Law Enforcement Responsibilities From the Port Authority

That's the video taken from one of the BASE jumpers who jumped from the top of 1WTC last September.

That incident, plus the more recent incident involving a teen climbing all the way to the top of the spire without anyone noticing anything wrong, shows how porous the WTC site is and how ineffective Port Authority security truly is.

I get how security can't be 100% perfect, but the Port Authority has made a show of how much security is there. It's a facade. They spent money on cameras, but didn't bother to install them.

They will repeatedly stop people attempting to enter the PATH but it's a superficial show and is hardly a deterrent when the search takes place at the base of the escalator bank.

Their police force is among the most highly compensated in the NYC metro area, and yet the site has repeatedly been entered by persons who don't belong. It is past time to turn over security at the WTC, and other Port Authority sites to the local law enforcement agencies, particularly the NYPD in NYC. There's nothing that the PAPD can do that the NYPD can't do - and the NYPD can do it better, and for far lower cost to taxpayers/riders/toll payers.

Eliminate the PAPD altogether. Consolidate law enforcement responsibilities in the local agencies and grant the NYPD and the New Jersey local law enforcement responsibilities and jurisdiction to handle the bistate crossings.

The PAPD was established because there are bistate bridges and tunnels, and this gets around the jurisdiction issues, but there are far too many problems with the PAPD that can't be solved with the existing system. The politicization of the Port Authority is a big reason. That politicization includes the Gov. Christie Bridgegate (GWB vendetta against Fort Lee Mayor for not endorsing him in a surefire reelection), and Gov. Cuomo and Christie's manipulation of a recent toll hike to make the governors look good even though they were approving massive toll and fare hikes.

Dismantling the bistate agency isn't going to happen anytime soon, not when both governors continue using the agency for their political purposes, but there has to be more accountability with the agency. Security problems at the WTC are only the latest issue. Cost controls on WTC reconstruction have long shown that the agency isn't interested in fiscal responsibility when they can get tolling and fares to cover any overruns. The agency is planning a vast capital program over the next decade, including rebuilding two bridges (Outerbridge and Bayonne) and building two new spans (new Goethals), plus major rehabilitation of the Lincoln Tunnel approach and the GWB. PATH is also getting expanded to Newark Liberty airport, but it doesn't appear that cost containment is in the picture, especially with the WTC PATH transit hub. And because there isn't sufficient cost control, money that could go towards other major capital projects is sucked up by the projects already in the pipeline.

Removing or at least seriously reducing the law enforcement responsibility will free up more money to do what the agency was intended to do in the first place - build transit infrastructure in the NYC metro area. It would help refocus the agency on its core mission.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Meet the New Boss; Same as the Old Boss

James Weinstein is finally out as the head of New Jersey Transit. After the massive debacle of allowing his agency's rail fleet be flooded in Hoboken and Meadows rail yards during Hurricane Sandy, you would have thought he should have been fired for all the damage sustained to the rail fleet.

You would be wrong. Governor Chris Christie signaled his support for Weinstein and never sought to get to the bottom of why the rail fleet was positioned in the vulnerable areas. At first, NJ Transit claimed that they didn't think those areas would flood as it had not been in their experience during more than 30 years of operation. Then they said that they didn't have anywhere else to move the equipment and that they didn't expect the flooding.

Both points were debunked after The Record revealed that the NJ Transit disaster preparation plan included moving the rail fleet to higher ground, including in Waldwick. That would have saved significant numbers of locomotives and railcars, allowing NJ Transit to resume service much faster. It took months before anything resembling a pre-storm schedule was in place. That's tens of thousands of commuters inconvenienced, lost economic value, and in the end Gov. Christie tried to blame some low-level employee for taking unilateral action and claimed that he couldn't be fired because of civil service rules (NJ Transit doesn't have those rules).

After that debacle, you'd think that NJ Transit would be more contrite and understanding? You'd be wrong. They, along with the organizers of the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium consistently told fans that they should take the train to the game because there weren't enough spots available for vehicles, and that you couldn't walk into the stadium due to security concerns.

Well, wouldn't you know it? The fans actually listened to all the warnings and they took mass transit. They blew past the organizers' estimates. In fact, they nearly tripled the organizers' estimates, and nearly doubled NJ Transit estimates.

That wouldn't be bad, except that the Meadowlands rail line didn't have the capacity to move that kind of number of fans. That's due in part to design, and in part to the agency's failure to have contingency plans in effect and to carry out the contingency plan.

There was apparently a plan to have buses on standby to help reduce the load on the rail service to Secaucus, but no one thought to activate it in a timely manner. That meant that there were fans who waited hours to clear the stadium. It was inexcusable.

Now, you might be wondering why this is a big deal when you can drive to a ballgame at one of the major stadiums and it could take you an hour to get out of the parking lots. That's true. You can often have delays getting out of the stadium, but those parking lots frequently have multiple egress points and distribute the vehicles onto different roads to disperse. That isn't possible with the rail service, which concentrates the passenger load onto a rail service.

Part of this has to do with the design of the stadium mass transit facilities, the Meadowlands spur line, and capacities at both Secaucus and the Meadowlands.

Well, the debacle at the Super Bowl led to Weinstein's resignation. He wasn't fired. He deserved to be fired - for Sandy. He deserved to be fired for the Super Bowl failures, but was allowed to resign, allowing him to take his pension/benefits with him. How nice of the Governor to protect his people like that.

Weinstein's failures shouldn't have been particularly surprising, given that he was in charge of the NJ MVC emissions testing program that was an absolute debacle. That $500 million contract with Parsons was a total mess, and he was allowed to continue as head of the Department of Transportation despite being integral to overseeing the program.

Now that Weinstein is behind NJ Transit, who's coming in to replace him?

Veronique Hakim, who is now head of the NJ Turnpike Authority. It's not particularly surprising that Gov. Christie is moving around officials from one state agency to another, but anyone who thinks that Hakim will do better than Weinstein ought to bear a few things in mind.

Prior to going to the Turnpike Authority, she was at the MTA as head of capital construction. During her stint there, she never met a program that she could keep on time or on budget. That includes post-9/11 work to enhance security at MTA facilities across the region. That should be a warning sign considering that NJ Transit is embarking on a program to rebuild after Sandy, including new rail yards on higher ground, improved survivability of equipment, and we need to be prepared for the inevitable cost overruns and excuses.

We must demand better of NJ Transit, and of Gov. Christie.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Real Problem with NJ Transit's Super Bowl Service

By the incessant stream of tweets and news stories last night both before and after the game, NJ Transit's ability to handle the crush of fans heading to the game was decidedly mixed.

NJ Transit claims that they were very pleased with the outcome and that they moved a record number of people during the event, with more than 28,000 moved heading to the game, and a higher number when leaving.

The numbers make sense because Super Bowl organizers had warned that thousands of parking spots would be unavailable due to the security perimeter around MetLife Stadium. Organizers had hoped that 8-12,000 fans would use mass transit. But the numbers exceeded even NJ Transit's estimates of commuters. This should have been a triumph of mass transit.

Here's where things go wrong.

NJ Transit built the spur line to the Meadowlands five years ago in anticipation of large events at the Meadowlands where crowds would exceed 50,000 fans. The $185 million cost included the new three platform terminus and a two-track spur off the Pascack Valley Line.

NJ Transit estimates that the line could handle about 11,000 an hour, though I've seen others claiming 15-20,000 an hour (this would appear to indicate the ability to handle about 10-12 10-car trains per hour).

With more than 28,000 people using the track configuration, you're looking at more than 2 hours to safely move all those people to Secaucus where they would presumably be able to take trains to other parts of New Jersey or into NY Penn Station.

But NJ Transit screwed everyone with how they built the spur in the first place, and by doing so, they also screwed residents of Bergen County who would want to attend events in the Meadowlands.

The stadium station should have been built as a through track on the Pascack Valley line, which means that regular service would stop there, and people could then take trains elsewhere on the line. Had that been done, the agency could optimize their train service to spread out the load to towns along the Pascack Valley line - improving service to Bergen County and reducing vehicles traveling to events. Moreover, it means that the pending Xanadu/American Dream project across Route 120 from MetLife Stadium finally opens, it would have regular service, instead of intermittent service during only certain events.

NJ Transit's poor planning also meant that only 11,000 people could be accommodated by the spur line per hour. The station should have been four platforms with three tracks to increase capacity for surging trains during events. But those capacity increases go only so far when NJ Transit doesn't provide increased service elsewhere in their system. Again, Bergen County got screwed as it ran fewer trains than it should have along the Bergen/Main/Pascack Valley lines during game day. This reduced the number of people who could get to or from the area serviced by NJ Transit - people who wanted to commute and avoid driving into the area.

It meant that crowds at Secaucus were left with few options as a result of limited service, making an already difficult transit situation worse.

The infrastructure costs to have implemented the system I outlined above would have been higher initially, but the long term service improvements would have been more than worth it to everyone in the region, and would actually reduce costs over time due to service running to the Meadowlands along an existing line.

So where does Jim Weinstein play into all this? He's the head of NJ Transit and was in charge of the agency when he allowed the rail fleet to be completely flooded out causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. He was not even reprimanded by Governor Chris Christie.

Now, the agency is congratulating itself for a job well done? In one sense, they should based on the infrastructure constraints that were in place. But in another, it was the agency's failure to have capacity to address large crowds and then ignoring their own and then the tone deaf response to customer complaints about capacity issues at MetLife Stadium and Secaucus.

The failed response is one that falls on Weinstein. Again.

Governor Christie refused to hold Weinstein accountable over Sandy and I don't expect anything different this time either.

On the positive side, this shows that mass transit is something fans have been clamoring for and that increased and enhanced service is something fans want. Other cities and transit agencies should recognize and implement viable plans to expand transit options since people want the ability to go to sporting and other major events (like concerts) without having the hassle of driving).

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Gov. Christie's Political Problems Just Grew To GWB Traffic Jam Sized Proportions

After months of denying that he or his staff had anything to do with the George Washington Bridge lane closures that caused massive traffic jams in Fort Lee and caused a public safety mess for the city or that the lane closures were politically motivated, new emails and text messages that were sought by The Record reveal that there were, in fact, political motivations involved.

The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee’s mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election and they chronicle how they tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000 which sits in the shadow of the bridge, the world’s busiest.

The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta—a notion that Christie has publicly denied.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: “Got it.”

Other top Christie associates mentioned in or copied on the email chain, all after the top New York appointee at the authority ordered the lanes reopened, include David Samson, the chairman of the agency; Bill Stepien, Christie’s re-election campaign manager and the newly appointed state GOP chairman; and Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman.

Christie has previously said that no one in his staff or campaign was involved in the lane closings, and he has dismissed questions about political retribution by joking that he moved the traffic cones himself.
While Gov. Christie's pal David Wildstein has already been sacked and Bob Baroni, who was Christie's top pick at the Port Authority resigned, the emails reveal that the traffic mess was initiated by those in Christie's inner circle.

This shows just how petty that Christie's staffers were in a race that was never going to be all that close.

Not only do the Governor's political appointees at the Port Authority need to be scrutinized for their actions, but the state needs to hold Gov. Christie accountable for this act of partisan hackery that undermined public safety in Fort Lee - all because the mayor wasn't going to endorse the Governor across party lines.

The governor not only needs to apologize to Fort Lee residents, but he needs to clean house of his staffers who went down this path.

I'm sure that local politicians are looking at whether criminal charges could be filed in relation to interfering with public safety by engaging in a political vendetta against the mayor.

It's possibly actionable under the state's Code of Criminal Justice. Various charges could include violating the Execution of Public Duty under 2C:3-3, Crime of corruption of public resources under 2C:27-12, and Obstructing Highways and Other Public Passages under 2C:33-7.

As with the NJ Transit rail fleet flooding debacle, Gov. Christie has let those involved get off easy. That has stop. He has to hold those involved accountable, and he has to take responsibility himself for these actions. Every day that he lets these staffers stay on in Trenton is another day that this scandal grows.

And I'm saying this as someone who voted for Christie. He personally did well in the Sandy aftermath excluding the NJ Transit rail fleet flooding flap, but this action has parallels to the NJ Transit mess. He's let his underlings/staffers get off without so much as a slap on the wrist for engaging in actions that put state assets at risk (in the NJT instance) and lives at risk (in GWB lane closures).

He's got to fire those involved and allow the AG or federal prosecutors to investigate this fully. You can't engage in a political vendetta like this, where lives can be put at risk - and Fort Lee documented how police, fire and EMS were unable to respond quickly due to the traffic jams that blocked most of the city as a result of the lane closures to the bridge.

Cross posted at LGF.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Year Later: Rebuilding After Sandy Continues

A year ago, Hurricane Sandy was churning off the East Coast and about to deliver one of the greatest left hooks anyone had ever seen. The storm was projected to make landfall within 100 miles or so of New York City, and would do so at an astronomical high tide. While it was not the strongest storm in the Atlantic Basin's history, it was the largest storm - with a wind shield of 1,100 miles.

That combination led to fears that entire parts of the New York metro area would be flooded out.

Those fears turned out to be right on the money.

Parts of the city and Jersey Shore and Long Island were indeed flooded out and battered by Sandy. While the storm didn't produce the kinds of flooding rains that have been visited by storms like Floyd or Irene, it was the storm surge that caused tremendous damage to New York City. Here are a bunch of before-after photos showing how far we've come in the cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

More than 200 people were killed by the storm in all, including dozens in both New York and New Jersey. The Jersey Shore was battered and some of the most iconic photos were taken from Seaside Heights where the famous rollercoaster and amusement park pier were swallowed up by the angry churning ocean.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were both overrun by the waters in New York Harbor, and it has only been in the last two weeks that the Statue of Liberty was reopened to the public after its piers and electrical systems were repaired. Ellis Island is reopening to the public this week, although many pieces in the museum collection are still undergoing repairs and conservation efforts.

The flood waters inundated Lower Manhattan, Hoboken, Jersey City, and hundreds of miles of shoreline throughout the region.

Communities hardest hit included Breezy Point, Long Beach, Hoboken, and other coastal and low lying areas. Breezy Point was site of one of the worst sights during the crisis - a raging fire during the height of the storm that ended up burning more than a 100 homes with firefighters powerless to do anything. Since then, there have been accusations and lawsuits against Con Ed that they didn't turn power off to the area, which could have saved the area from the fires that started when electrical systems were inundated.

While some are still waiting for insurance to come through or have decided that rebuilding isn't worth the effort and have sought homes on higher ground elsewhere, others have started rebuilding.

Many shore communities have made an effort to rebuild damaged boardwalks. A few were able to rebuild in time for this summer, but many others were only able to get a few sections done or otherwise cleared debris so that beach access was assured.

Yet risks remain from Sandy damage. A devastating fire destroyed more than 50 businesses in Seaside Park just two weeks ago. The fire apparently started in wiring underneath a portion of the town's boardwalk that survived Sandy but was damaged by the flood waters. The damage went undetected until after it caused the fire destroying businesses and buildings that had survived Sandy.

The New York City subways, which famously run 24-7-365, were shut down ahead of the storm. Efforts were made to try and protect key assets - the tunnels and entrances in low lying areas, but those efforts failed in Lower Manhattan as the temporary measures were no match for the historic storm surge that flooded Lower Manhattan and crippled the MTA's subway system.

In all 9 subway tunnels were flooded, and repairs to those tunnels will continue for the foreseeable future. One, the Montague Tube, will be out of service for more than a year as the entire tunnel needs to be rebuild and reinforced against future storm damage. Every piece of electronic gear, every switch, every signal, and even the rails and ties, have to be replaced because they sat in the salt water that flooded the tunnels. The MTA's ability to get the system largely up and running, including a bus bridge while the subway service was being restored will be a case-study in how to deal with disaster management for decades to come. It also once again showed how and why the subway system is so critical to a functioning and growing metropolis like New York City. It's why the City and State must come up with the money to invest in growing the system and reinforcing and modernizing the system. The subways are integral to the city's very survival and nothing can replace a functioning subway system or else the city will grind to a halt under the strain of too many people trying to get to their places of employment.

While the MTA heroically managed to get service restored quickly, including to the A line to the Rockaways that was washed out by the storm surge in Jamaica Bay, the system continues to be plagued by delays and signal failures throughout the affected subway tunnels and flooded areas due to salt water corrosion. All of those issues will have to be addressed to keep the system functioning. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a point of touting the MTA restoration efforts, but he's refused thus far to commit to increasing the state aid to the MTA to rebuild and reinforce the system further adding to the agency's debt load as it needs to borrow to make the necessary improvements. That's a substantial failure on his part.

Across the Hudson, NJ Transit is still dealing with all the damage to its system, and the fact that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie refuses to take action against James Weinstein for not implementing and overseeing the protection of the rail fleet that ended up being purposefully stored in flood zones in Kearny's Meadows Yard and Hoboken's terminal yard. It's understandable that damage to fixed equipment - the switches and repair facilities - couldn't be reduced due to their location, but the rail fleet suffered damage that continued to hamper commuters for months after. That was completely avoidable. NJ Transit ignored flooding risks and allowed hundreds of railcars and locomotives to be flooded out. The damage has yet to be completely repaired.

The Port Authority's bridges and tunnels weathered the storm mostly intact, but there was significant damage at LaGuardia Airport, where flooding swept through the terminals and into the parking lots, and PATH was completely overwhelmed between Hoboken and World Trade Center. It took months before service was restored.

The rebuilding around the region continues to be uneven as insurance companies, FEMA, and state and localities are dealing with all kinds of issues. Some areas have been bought out by the government so as to return those areas to marsh lands instead of development.

Other parts are building new and improved reinforced dune networks - steel sheet piles buried underneath sand dunes planted with sea grass. Some of those efforts have been hampered by landowners who protest the eminent domain easements necessary to allow their construction. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the added value of sand dune protection must be weighed against any potential lost views. Frankly, the fact that the person lost views ignores the fact that the sand dunes act to protect those homes and the homes of their neighbors from the devastating storm surge.

The Hurricane also provided yet another clarifying moment when Congressional Republicans basically thwarted any action to fund rebuilding aid, re-funding the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and delayed action for 91 days. Many of these same Republicans have their hands out with no strings attached and no conditions when disaster aid is requested for their own districts, but they demanded that any disaster aid include offsets from other parts of the budget, and otherwise imposed conditions on disaster aid that had not been done in any prior instance.

The delay had real ramifications - delaying the time for which people could be reimbursed from the NFIP, including for floods occurring elsewhere in the country as well as in the New York metro area.

Utilities are still dealing with the disaster too - having to ramp up their efforts to disaster-proof their systems. Sandy revealed that far too many key assets are in flood zones and that the utilities are ill prepared to deal with the scope of damage. New Jersey's PSE&G fared far better than other New Jersey utilities, but power-restoration efforts were far slower than anyone wants. PSE&G has proposed a multi-year multi-billion dollar improvement project, which includes taller power poles that are more resistant to wind and tree damage, and new gear that reduces the chances that downed lines and poles take out power adjacent power lines. Despite those improvements, there are communities that are balking at the taller poles, complaining that it changes the character of their towns. It's NIMBYism at its core, but these will be some of the same people who will complain loudest when the power goes out.

The power outages also caused significant shortages of gasoline - and while New York State is building a gas reserve to deal with future disasters, efforts to require gas stations to have generators on hand to power the pumps when the power goes out have faltered. That's a mistake.

A gas reserve doesn't matter much if the gas stations lack the power to operate the pumps. An effort should be made to require gas stations that are renovating or replacing their gas tanks to upgrade to include generator backups - whether portable generators or fixed generators on site to provide backup. The gas shortages meant long lines and the governors in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut were forced to impose odd-even rationing to make sure that lines weren't out of control.

Cross Posted at LGF.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Gov. Christie Must Fire NJ Transit Officials For Failing To Follow Rail Plan Before Sandy

Governor Chris Christie has given his blessing and backing to NJ Transit officials in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated NJ Transit's rail fleet. 343 railcars and locomotives were flooded and damaged. A portion of the fleet remains out of service due to flood damage.

The costs are in the hundreds of millions, and yet NJ Transit officials have skated by despite incontrovertible evidence that they didn't move equipment to higher ground. They claimed that they didn't have alternative locations.

A damning new report by the Bergen Record shows a completely different story. The paper made a freedom of information request, and the document highlights the absolute incompetence of transit officials.

Only after The Record filed a public-records suit did the transit agency release a 3½-page copy of a hurricane plan prepared four months before the storm that advised transferring commuter trains to several upland sites. Nowhere did the plan recommend what NJ Transit ended up doing: moving millions of dollars worth of rail­cars and engines to a low-lying yard near water, where they were inundated by Sandy’s storm surge.

The NJ Transit document stands in stark contrast to the more detailed hurricane plan prepared by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, which, taking into account concerns about global warming, enabled the transit system to move the vast majority of its trains to higher ground, saving all but 11 of its rail­cars from flood damage.

The damage to 343 pieces of NJ Transit equipment in low-lying yards in Kearny and Hoboken — 70 locomotives and 273 railcars, a third of the railroad’s fleet — is estimated at $120 million. The damaged equipment also included seven railcars and seven locomotives owned by the MTA that NJ Transit stored in Kearny, site of the agency’s sprawling Meadows Maintenance Complex.

The “NJ Transit Rail Operations Hurricane Plan” prepared in June 2012 directs NJ Transit’s train crews to move railcars and locomotives “from flood-prone areas to higher ground” in the event of a hurricane or severe tropical storm. The plan is brief, but it lists more than a half-dozen locations where equipment is to be moved.

Commuter railcars and locomotives used on the Main and Bergen lines would be stored in the Waldwick Yard, according to the plan. Equipment serving the agency’s Hoboken Division would be stored in the Bergen Tunnels under the Palisades. And cars and engines serving the Atlantic City Line would be moved to a yard in central South Jersey.

It indicates that the transit agency had a basic flood contingency plan that included moving its equipment to higher ground. That included moving its rail fleet to areas in Waldwick, the Bergen Tunnels, and several other locations.

That's exactly what I and many other rail critics have said from day one. There was no reason for the agency to store its equipment in the lowest-lying areas when they had alternatives along their own rights of way that were safer.

The Main/Bergen Line was particularly affected because its equipment was stored in Hoboken; had the equipment been stored instead in Waldwick, the service could have been restored weeks sooner.

Yet NJ Transit's Jim Weinstein has lied to anyone and everyone that there was nothing they could have done to prevent the kind of damage done to the fleet.

Gov. Christie has given Weinstein political cover, and that itself is a boneheaded move. To put this in to terms that anyone can understand - NJ Transit lied to the public. It lied to state officials. It even lied to Congress. Gov. Christie has to fire Weinstein and everyone involved in the decision not only to move the rail fleet to higher ground, but to move equipment into Hoboken and Kearney's low-lying rail yards.

NJ Transit is still trying to recover from the damage; this week NJ Transit is finally reopening the restrooms at Hoboken Yards, although the waiting area at Hoboken is a mess and the shops and restaurants in the terminal are still closed due to flood damage.

No more excuses Gov. Christie. It's past time to act and fire Weinstein and rail officials. They failed the agency, the state, and commuters. They directly harmed the state's economy by complying with their own plans to store equipment on higher ground that would have gotten rail operations back on track weeks faster than they did. As it is, parts of the rail schedule are still not back to 100% of the pre-storm schedule.

The agency doesn't have the equipment on hand to handle disruptions that can crop up on a normal basis. Trains are less reliable due to storm damage, and that means there are more delays than normal. All this affects the ridership and undermines efforts to convince people to use mass transit.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Gov. Christie Must Fire NJ Transit Officials Over Gross Incompetence Before Hurricane Sandy

I am once again reiterating my call on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to fire NJ Transit officials, starting with Executive Director Jim Weinstein.

Weinstein appeared before the State Legislature once again and admitted that the agency not only stored rail equipment in Kearny and Hoboken before Hurricane Sandy, but purposefully moved still more equipment into both low-lying areas before Sandy.

“We brought some additional equipment in there to store during the storm,” Weinstein told members of the Senate Budget Committee during a hearing on the Christie Administration's transportation budget Wednesday morning. At the time, he said, "there was no reason to believe it would flood.”

Weinstein did not say how many rail cars were moved into the vulnerable spot, but that it won’t happen again. More than a quarter of the agency’s rail fleet was damaged during the storm, most at the maintenance facility. “We are informed by the experience,” he said. “We won’t be bringing equipment there in the future in the event we are faced with a similar situation as we were with Sandy.”

NJ Transit Spokesman John Durso, Jr. refused to say how many pieces of equipment were moved into harm’s way, saying "that specific information had not been previously provided due to security-related concerns." Durso has repeatedly cited “security” as a reason not to release details about NJ Transit’s movement of trains during Sandy.

However, he has not explained how security would be breached by making public the number of cars moved to a yard where all the train equipment sits on tracks in clear view to the public.

The flooding at the Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, and at the agency's Hoboken yard - a location that Weinstein acknowledged on Wednesday is close to the Hudson River's waters - damaged 272 passenger cars and 70 locomotives. Weinstein said it amounted to more than $100 million in damage that NJ Transit is hoping will be reimbursed from its insurance and from federal emergency grant dollars.
That was despite all manner of warning from weather forecasters who were predicting dire flooding throughout the New York City metro area - including the Hackensack River, Passaic River, and Hudson River basins. The Kearny yard and Hoboken yard are both squarely in the affected flood zones and yet NJ Transit has repeatedly stated that their experience was that neither yard would fully flood during a storm.

The Hoboken Yard isn't merely close to the Hudson River. It abuts it. The station has been prone to flooding in the past, though not to the extent it was during Sandy. Likewise, the Kearny Yard is surrounded by water. Rivers and waterways can and do flood during severe storms.

View Larger Map

They gambled with money and equipment and lost. More than a third of the rail fleet was flooded and the agency is still scrambling to restore the rail schedule to pre-Sandy levels. The Main and Bergen line is still below its pre-Sandy level, and dozens of railcars and locomotives, including the agency's newest dual mode locomotives are out of service until repairs can be completed. The delay in repairs is exascerbated by the fact that the agency has had problems sourcing replacement parts due to the severity of the flooding to its own facilities, replacement parts in-house, and from the manufacturers.

Christie must fire Weinstein, who has been less than transparent in the agency's failings before, during and after the hurricane hit. Weinstein has tried to bluster his way through all this, claiming that his agency didn't know the areas would flood - but that is a transparent lie to anyone who watched news reports in the 72 hours before Sandy hit. The warnings were there. The worst-case scenarios were already laid out.

And NJ Transit rail operations moved more equipment into the flood zone that everyone was warned to evacuate from.

Even now, they're less than transparent about how many cars remain to be fixed. It took months before the agency put up a site indicating how many cars and locomotives remain to be repaired, and the numbers haven't been updated since.

The agency is touting its ability to get Hoboken back up and running, but it downplays the fact that essential services were not restored for months - like restrooms or a warm waiting area for customers in the heart of winter. It took an outcry. They've managed to restore electrical service to a substation so that electric trains can now run to Hoboken, but the station is still in shambles and the retailers are still displaced due to flood damage.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Gov. Christie Takes House GOP and Rep. Boehner to Task For Screwing Sandy Victims

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave a press conference today following sending a letter to Congressional leaders along with Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

It was a real barn burner and the focus of his righteous ire was the mess created by House Republicans. Members of his own political party, and specifically, Speaker John Boehner, screwed victims of Hurricane Sandy in the name of politics.

This was a speech that shows Gov. Christie was on the job and knew what his job was. Christie did what he was elected to do. The job of governing for the state of New Jersey and making sure that the state gets the aid it needed and was promised. He gave thanks to those who were involved in those efforts - including his long time political nemeses in Bob Menendez and other NJ Democrats, because they too were doing the job that they were elected to do - making sure that they got Sandy aid done.

He thanked the President, because he too got the job done.

You know who didn't? The GOP and Boehner in particular. It's been 66 days since Hurricane Sandy hit, and three weeks since the $60b aid package was submitted. The House has sat on the bill for three weeks.

They did nothing.

It speaks to the gross incompetence on the part of the GOP and the House in particular. There was no excuse.

Christie let them know it in no uncertain terms. This was a BS manufactured crisis (the fiscal cliff/debt ceiling/tax rate), and it's all on Congress for failing the people of New Jersey and New York and others affected by Sandy.

New Jersey (and New York) pay more to the feds than it gets back normally. Now, it's asking for assistance over a true natural disaster of massive proportions along the East Coast, and the GOP abdicated its responsibilities. In fact, the House specifically adjourned at 2pm today rather than taking up the bill and passing it.

Some GOPers and right wingers were carping on pork - or more specifically $400m in unrelated items. Yet, the final House version (the pair of bifurcated bills - itself a move to try and get something done on the part of Rep. Eric Cantor and the NJ delegation) and the Senate bill had excised that stuff leaving a clean bill.

There were no excuses. Nothing. All Christie got from Boehner's office was nothing but static, and Christie let everyone know he wont stand for that.

That's not bluster. That's calling it as it is.

After the Christie presser, Boehner attempted to make amends, and his compromise is to address about $9b in aid in a vote on Friday, with the balance of of $51b to be voted on January 15.

To some, this may seem like a fair deal, but that's absolute rubbish.

At no time in prior Congressional actions on natural disasters did they dither in this fashion.

At no time did Congress bifurcate a disaster aid package - essentially forcing two votes where only one was necessary.

There's no reason that the full $60b package couldn't be voted on today, or on Friday. The delays have real world consequences.

It affects contracting for restoration of infrastructure and projects critical to rebuilding. It delays private businesses from moving forward with their own rebuilding efforts since they need that infrastructure rebuilt before committing to their own rebuilding.

These delays are wholly on the GOP leadership and Speaker Boehner. And he deserves all the excoriation and derision directed at them because had this been put up to a straight floor vote, it would have been adopted handily.

Boehner and the GOP leaders played political games with the disaster aid.

Friday, November 09, 2012

NJ Transit and Port Authority Fail Commuters During Crisis Yet Again

The disaster response by NJ Transit and PATH is beyond deplorable. It's atrocious and defies common sense. The agency seems to think that it's done a good job in providing information to its customers, and yet there is a daily crush of thousands of commuters attempting to get home by way of one of the three rail lines servicing New Jersey other than the Atlantic City Line or the bus service that is wholly inadequate to pick up the slack.

All one has to do is look across the river to the MTA to see how disaster response should be handled.

The MTA faced as bad a crisis as anything that NJ Transit and the Port Authority faced combined. Miles of tracks were submerged and damaged. Seven rail tunnels were flooded as were several key stations. The entire system was impacted.

Yet, within days bus service was up and running and a week later subway service was resuming in the formerly flooded tunnels. This weekend will see still more service added, leaving just a handful of Lower Manhattan stations out of action plus a segment of the A line in the Rockaways that suffered catastrophic damage.

That compares with the PATH service, which is essentially out of action due to flooding of the two tunnels to the World Trade Center and damage to both the WTC and Hoboken terminals. They have a fraction of the track and stations to dewater, and yet they're taking even longer to restore service.

The same goes for NJ Transit and their rail lines.

The buses that NJ Transit are offering are wholly inadequate to the task and the agency can't even admit that they're not up to the task of attempting to provide service to hundreds of thousands of commuters that rely on mass transit on a daily basis.

An average train can move 800-1,000 people.

The average bus? 50? 60 if you pack them in tight? People who normally take rail are somehow supposed to get on a handful of buses that are already full with their ordinary riders. The existing bus schedule hasn't been increased to handle the overflow; people are somehow supposed to take the existing bus service, even though the Port Authority can't handle the crowds at the bus terminal.

There simply aren't enough scheduled buses to handle the loads. Even with emergency shuttle service from designated locations, people simply can't get to where they need to be - namely work.

And that doesn't even begin to describe the mess at the Port Authority. Not only have the crowds been a disaster waiting to happen, but what should normally be a 40 minute commute stretches to 3-4 times as long because buses aren't available, are delayed, or inadequate to deal with the crowds during peak rush hour. Waiting an hour or two can help alleviate the congestion, but people can't do that when they've got family and obligations back home. Some things can't wait until 8-9pm before attempting a commute home. Add to that the fact that phone and Internet service is poor inside the Port Authority and you get little information as to why the delays are occurring beyond the congestion one sees.

That was the case earlier this week when not only were there no buses coming into pick up any passengers for 45 minutes while I was waiting on line, but there was no indication as to why or when service would be restored. On a separate occasion, NJ Transit and Port Authority didn't explain why service was delayed for more than an hour just to exit the Port Authority and it took further digging to find out that the traffic delays from the Lincoln Tunnel were the result of downed lines that blocked access to the George Washington Bridge - backing up traffic for miles on end and forcing detours to avoid the congestion.

The NJ Transit response has been inadequate as to how and why trains aren't running on the Bergen or Pascack Valley lines either. They could claim that the trains couldn't run because of power outages at key locations along the routes, but with power now being restored, NJ Transit should be working with the utilities to get power restored so that key mass transit links get back up and running faster - reducing the need for people to drive to work (exacerbating the fuel crunch around the region).

Besides, NJ Transit has operated trains on the Main/Bergen/Pascack lines during outages in the past. It's slow and tedious, but it can be done. They aren't even attempting that.

It would even be plausible for NJ Transit to contend that they can't run the trains because of damage to their Rail Operations Center, but that should have been resolved as well. After all, if the MTA can dewater 6 of 7 tunnels and get service up and running, NJ Transit could and should be able to do the same.

At the same time, there are further delays due to the fact that Amtrak hasn't been able to get all of its Hudson and East River tunnels functioning. They're running at reduced capacity as well, and they're hopefully going to be able to get back up and running. That would alleviate much of the crunch for both Long Islanders and New Jerseyeans because trains would be able to access Penn Station easier.

Governor Christie must hold the agency accountable and thus far he's not done enough to get the agency moving in the right direction. That compares with the MTA, which has done a yeoman's job of keeping the public informed as well as answering and answerable to Goveror Cuomo. The response has been light night and day, and it has made an already difficult situation intolerable.

Whereas the MTA is transparent on its rebuilding efforts - daily updates including photos and news conferences, the NJ Transit site has done little beyond the initial posting that indicates the damage in general terms and not what the agency has done already to rectify the situation.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Making Hash of the Commute

I'm so glad I'm not commuting into NYC this morning.

NJ Transit is an absolute mess. They claimed that they had service restored on a couple of lines, but here's what that meant.

For Main/Port Jervis, it was 7 trains inbound in the morning, and 3 would get to New York City after what's normally considered rush hour (10-11am). No reverse commute trains. In the PM, you'd have the same situation - 7 outbound trains, with staggered times that include times outside rush hour.

Those attempting to do the commute found themselves in a mess - serious overcrowding. The overcrowding was so bad that #NJTransit suspended service on the North Jersey Coast Line service and customers utilizing the Woodbridge station were told to use Metropark station for service to/from Newark and New York.

Meanwhile, bus service isn't much better. Mrs. Lawhawk who had to get to court this morning, had to let three buses pass her by with standing room only before she found one with a seat. That's crazy.

But, once she got into the city, the commute was much smoother. The MTA has done a phenomenal job in restoring service, including to Lower Manhattan and service was being added faster than the MTA cartographers could update their service maps (which are being updated daily). When you think of all the millions of people who rely on the subways, Joe Lhota has done a tremendous job in getting service restored, even though some stations may be out of commission for a while - particularly in the Rockaways and South Ferry. Other lines are being bypassed because of lower ridership and the need to concentrate on the routes that have the ability to restore service to the greatest numbers of people in the shortest time. It means that some areas are still cutoff, including Williamsburg, Coney Island, and parts of Lower Manhattan, but if someone did a time lapse of the service maps, you'd see just how fast the service was restored.

Now, going forward the question will be how to prevent the disruptions we've seen from getting as bad as they were.

For starters - the feds and states ought to consider legislation requiring all gas stations to retrofit with generators (and in flood-prone areas - sufficiently elevated to reduce chances for disruption). That would allow people to refuel, and to power their generators to get power back quicker. It would alleviate traffic considerably and hasten the recovery rather than lose time to waiting in lines for gas.

New York should have implemented even/odd gas fill ups just as New Jersey did for affected counties. It's alleviated some of the lines around Bergen County - but restoring power does that even more.

New York State has to pony up to fund the MTA to get more storm mitigation in place - better drainage/pumping systems/flood gates to prevent the tunnels from getting swamped.

And in New Jersey, they've got to take a critical look at NJ Transit and how they were ill-prepared to deal with the storm and the after-effects. Did they not realize that people would attempt a commute during rush hour and the limited trains they would run would get overcrowded due to conditions.

It's the same problem they had after last year's storms (Irene and Lee). Now, we're going to see just how slow NJ Transit will be in restoring service, though it's not all their fault - PSEG has to restore power so that NJ Transit rail signals/gates can function. But that's another place where backup generators could make a difference.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Governor's Demanded Audit of Port Authority Finds Need For Toll Hikes

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently underwent an outside audit as required by Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo. They did so because of the fallout over a major toll and fare increase that went into effect earlier this year and follow-on hikes set for the next three Decembers as well as complaints that the agency was diverting funds for transportation projects to finish the World Trade Center project.

The audit report, prepared by the consulting firms Navigant Consulting Inc. and Rothschild Inc., finds that the Port Authority must raise tolls in order to maintain its credit rating and carry out infrastructure maintenance and upgrades over the next decade.

The report, prepared by the consulting firms Navigant Consulting Inc. and Rothschild Inc., lays out $26.9 billion in projects the Port Authority is poised to undertake through 2020 — everything from replacing the suspender ropes on the George Washington Bridge to raising the Bayonne Bridge and completing the World Trade Center. But it also identified about $44 billion in needs, including fixing aging terminals at Newark Liberty International and La Guardia airports.

To generate enough revenue to finance those projects, the report recommended that the agency attract private corporations to invest in joint projects and pursue aggressive cost-control measures, some of which Port Authority officials said they recently put in place. Port Authority officials said they would also pursue advertising revenue at its facilities to bring in more non-toll and fare money and would also continue to collect money owed by other government agencies and toll cheats.

The report mounted a strong defense of last year’s toll hikes at the agency’s bridges and tunnels, to $9.50 from $8 during peak travel times. They are scheduled to rise an additional 75 cents each December through 2015. Without those increases, the Port Authority would have had to cut $6 billion from its capital plan over the next decade, imperiling critical projects and its credit rating, the report said. Even with the toll hikes, the report said, the agency is losing money on its bridges, tunnels, trains and bus terminals. The report also encouraged the Port Authority to “educate the public” about tolls on some of the New York City-owned bridges linking Manhattan and its boroughs.
The Port Authority is responsible for infrastructure that is in many places approaching 80 years of age or more.

Bridges such as the Goethals and Outerbridge crossing need replacement due to their being functionally obsolete. The Bayonne Bridge must be raised to permit Super Panamax shipping to port facilities.

The George Washington Bridge needs upkeep, including replacing the suspenders that carry the bridge deck weight.

Airport terminals at JFK, LGA, and EWR are 52 years old and contribute to delays and bad customer experiences. The average age for PATH facilities is 72 years, and Port commerce facilities are 57 years old. The increasing age of the facilities means more must be spent to maintain a state of good repair, and that facilities need to be replaced or modernized to maintain competitive advantages over other facilities nationally and around the world.

The full report indicates $3.2 billion in capital construction for airport rehabilitation and improvement projects, focused on Newark Liberty's Terminal A, JFK's Terminal 4 and 5, and LaGuardia's entire terminal infrastructure.

Further, PATH would see another $2 billion in infrastructure projects, including extending rail platforms to accommodate 10-car trains, signal work, and tunnel modernization.

More than $4 billion would be spent on bridge-related projects, though the figure for raising the Bayonne Bridge appears to be 20% higher than the $1 billion costs previously acknowledged for that project. Also, the Goethals Bridge replacement span costs don't appear to show the full cost for that project - which are expected to be financed in a public-private partnership.

The report also indicates a negative free cash flow largely as a result of WTC construction, PATH, Ferry and Port facilities. This situation needs to be addressed all while maintaining the current level of service. At the same time, the bulk of the negative cash flow is the result of WTC construction, which means that the sooner the construction is completed, the sooner that the Port Authority will obtain revenues from WTC related facilities - the office tower rents, retail spaces, and taking construction costs off the books. The ongoing delays in construction have only made the Port Authority's financial situation worse, but it isn't sole reason. The Port's operations incur losses of $28 per container because the revenue stream from tenant rentals is insufficient to cover recurring capital costs, such as dredging and system upgrades. PATH loses about $3 per passenger, which is comparable to other mass transit systems although PATH doesn't get federal subsidies as seen in other mass transit systems.

Aviation facilities are the key generator of Port Authority revenues, with more than $20 in revenue per passenger, while bridges and tunnels generate $7.50 per vehicle.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

NCAA, Pro Sports Leagues Suing New Jersey Over Sports Betting Law

There are four states where sports gambling is legal: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana. That seems to be unfair to other states that have later legalized gambling, such as New Jersey. This year, Gov. Chris Christie and the legislature sought to overcome federal law authorizing only Nevada to allow sports betting by enacting a sports betting law for the state.

Now, the NCAA and the major pro sports leagues are suing the state.

The nation's four professional sports leagues and the NCAA filed suit against Gov. Chris Christie and other state officials in federal court in Trenton this morning to block New Jersey from allowing sports betting in Atlantic City casinos and the state's race tracks.

The suit, brought by Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association cites a 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, prohibiting all but four states to permit betting on collegiate and professional games. The measure was sponsored by Bill Bradley, a former Democratic senator from New Jersey who also played basketball for the New York Knicks.

The suit asserts that "the outcome of collegiate and athletic contests must be determined, and must be perceived by the public as being determined, solely on the basis of honest athletic competition."

New Jersey was the only state in 1992 to be be given an opportunity by Congress to approve a referendum allowing sports betting, but the matter was never placed on the ballot.

In November, New Jersey voters approved a ballot referendum to amend the state Constitution to allow sports betting , which is currently only permitted by federal law in Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana.
It's really hilarious to read that the leagues and NCAA are concerned about New Jersey's gambling threatening the "character and integrity" of events and threatens the "reputations and goodwill" between fans and teams. After all, that would be an argument applicable to any state that had sports gambling.

This seems to be a curious argument being made by the sports organizations. After all, they haven't been concerned about the gambling in the states where it is legal (and grandfathered into the federal law prohibiting sports gambling elsewhere). If they were that concerned about the vice of sports gambling, then they would have tried to block sports gambling in those states. Well, they have tried, though they haven't been successful.

This has more to do with a poorly conceived federal law that is discriminatory against states that didn't consider sports betting prior to the enactment of the federal law. It protects the interests of the states where sports betting is legal and intrudes into an area where states were previously free to consider their own policy on gambling.

Friday, July 27, 2012

So Much For Openness: Gov. Christie Blocks Bill That Would Require Port Authority To Hold Hearings Before Toll Hikes

In the wake of an outcry from commuters around the New York City metro area about proposed toll hikes at Port Authority of New York and New Jersey bridges and tolls, both Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo acted swiftly to force the agency to pare back the increases.

Both also claimed that they would push for more accountability and fiscal responsibility from the bistate agency.

Well, it looks like the charade continues.

Governor Christie killed a bill that would have required the agency to hold hearings before implementing toll hikes.

The developments illustrated Christie’s tight control over the Port Authority and his administration’s insistence on reforming the agency from within, despite Democratic attempts to harness anger generated by recent toll hikes on the agency’s bridges and tunnels.

Christie’s veto of a proposed state law that would have forced the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to hold public hearings before future toll increases drew an immediate rebuke from the bill’s sponsors, who said Christie killed their effort to bring more transparency and accountability to the Port Authority. The bi-state transportation agency is jointly controlled by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Democrats have called for more legislative oversight, audits and investigations. But Christie has said his administration is already fixing a “dysfunctional” agency that he inherited, and he has dismissed outside efforts as politically motivated.

Christie’s strategy has included stocking the agency with loyalists who will enact his agenda, and that trend continued on Thursday with the Port Authority’s announcement that failed Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon, a former Christie colleague in the U.S. attorney’s office, would take over as the agency’s deputy general counsel starting Monday.

“In effect, the governor announced that reform at the Port Authority will not happen under his watch,” said state Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, a lead sponsor of the proposed bill, along with Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood.

Christie told state lawmakers that the bill should be altered to focus on hundreds of smaller independent authorities, boards and commissions — what he has called the state’s “shadow government.”
Sorry, but the Port Authority is a shadow government in its own right and the open hearings law should have applied to all agencies. The Port Authority is a bistate monstrosity that is accountable to the governors of New York and New Jersey alone. There's no oversight, and both states see the Port Authority coffers as a bank from which they can draw upon for infrastructure projects without having to directly raise taxes. Instead, the agency can and does issue more and more bonds using the tolls and fares to back them.

That isn't to say that toll and fare hikes aren't warranted. They are; the Port Authority has significant projects it has to carry out over the next few years and that costs tremendous sums of money. From the Bayonne Bridge span height increase to replacing hangers and cables on the George Washington Bridge to a replacement span for the Goethals Bridge and the PATH terminal at the World Trade Center, the agency has a huge capital load on its plate.

But the agency must do more without raising fares and tolls. There has to be more accountability and holding public hearings on which these issues can be made known would have been a good first step.

Christie doesn't want to lose the governors' tight grip on the agency, which includes selecting individuals for key positions.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Star Ledger Doesn't Get It On ARC/Gateway Tunnel

The Star Ledger's editorial page doesn't get it when it comes to talking about the ARC tunnel and its successor, the Gateway Project.

It laments the billions that Gov. Chris Christie supposedly left on the table by killing the project because overruns would have been a multibillion dollar hit on New Jersey taxpayers.

Plans for a new rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan took a nasty PR hit in 2010, when Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on the ARC tunnel, citing billions in potential cost overruns to the state.

That concern was reasonable, if overblown. But he left billions of federal dollars on the table that we might not get back. And his real motive, it seems, was to grab the money set aside by Gov. Jon Corzine, so that he wouldn’t have to raise the gas tax.

The ARC tunnel would have doubled rail capacity — helping commuters get to high-paying Manhattan jobs and increasing property values in New Jersey. It was set for completion in 2018. But Christie didn’t have a Plan B. A tunnel is still needed, and he isn’t committed to the Gateway plan.

Even that 2025 date will cause hardship. NJ Transit says tweaks — adding double-decker buses, encouraging commuters to use ferries and PATH trains — could wring another decade out of the existing transit system. That gets us to 2022.
After that? Doomsday.
Let's just ignore the fact that Gov. Corzine fast-tracked the ARC project to get it underway before he left office, ignoring the fact that NJ Transit has never been able to contain costs on its infrastructure projects.

The federal government understood this as they estimated the overruns to be anywhere from $1 to $5 billion, and the feds further refused to cover any cost overruns on this interstate project. Had the federal government wanted to keep the project going, it would have ponied up a deal to cover cost overruns. It knew, or had reason to know, that the overruns would be more than what NJ Transit was willing to admit, and there was no way that they would do so. Instead, they let Christie kill the project and touch off the ensuing political finger pointing.

Amtrak is better suited to be the lead agency on the Gateway tunnel project because it assures that the rail connections under Manhattan lead to a high speed rail setup, and not just a tunnel ending without any place to store trains when they are done with the run into Manhattan. The ARC project was ill-conceived and the Gateway tunnel is a far more practical approach to getting new capacity.

That doesn't mean that there aren't capacity issues with the existing infrastructure - there most certainly are.

However, NJ Transit has cut its capacity all while raising fares because it lacks the operating funds to run as many trains and there's no timetable on when those cuts would ever be restored (something that they admitted during a recent customer survey blitz in Hoboken). That means that the supposed 1-seat ride into Manhattan wouldn't happen, or it would mean reduced service to Hoboken - far from an ideal situation.

It's also interesting that New York, which stands to benefit greatly from whatever tunnel project is built, hasn't put up funding to cover its end of the deal. That's another reason why Christie killed the ARC project. ARC's funding structure was disproportionately hitting New Jersey residents, while New York gained benefits without contributing its fair share.

The Gateway project is truly an interstate venture, as it produces a major upgrade to the NEC - an interstate corridor and the only real high speed rail option for the country (the Acela service isn't anywhere near European or Japanese standards, but it's the closest thing that the US has in service). Upgrading the stretch in New Jersey through Queens, New York would shave significant time on a Washington DC to Boston run.

It's a project that has to get done, but the Star Ledger also oversells the benefits to New Jersey. Values cannot be expected to rise without additional service by NJ Transit. If the agency can't increase its operating budget to provide more service, it doesn't matter what kind of capacity is available.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Gov. Christie Seems Fine With Feds Managing New Jersey's Health Exchanges

So much for states' rights in Gov. Christie's eyes - he's open to the idea of letting the feds run the NJ health exchange.

Gov. Chris Christie said he is exploring letting the federal government set up the state health insurance exchange required by the federal health care overhaul to allow individuals to buy coverage.

He also said he is not sure that New Jersey needs to expand Medicaid under the federal law because the state's program that covers the poor and disabled is already so inclusive.

The Republican governor made the comments while appearing on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" show, one of four national television appearances he was making Tuesday, a day after he told New Jersey lawmakers during a special session that they should cut taxes.

New Jersey legislative Democratic leaders said they had already agreed to a tax cut and accused the governor of trying to win more national attention.

Speaking on "Fox and Friends," Christie told about how he rejected the legislative Democrats' $800 million income tax increase, but he did not mention that it was intended only for people making more than $1 million or that the Legislature also adopted a tax cut plan.
New Jersey may not need to expand its Medicare program as much as some other states (think Louisiana, Florida and Texas for instance) to cover those uninsureds anticipated to be covered under the PPACA. It would be a more gradual and smaller expansion, but it would still bring more people into coverage than the current system.

I think that's Christie's way of finessing around the fact that the PPACA's individual mandate wont affect most NJ residents and that the expanded coverage would help those residents who don't have access to affordable insurance coverage.

As for the over portion of his appearance on Fox, the tax hike would have funded a larger property tax relief package, or funded transportation projects without the need for more bonding. He's mostly upset that he couldn't secure as large a property tax relief package as he wanted, and that legislative Democrats figured out a way to condition the property tax relief on meeting revenue estimates.

Considering that the revenue estimates aren't likely to be reached (they are at an unobtainable 7.2% growth estimate that flies in the face of current national and regional trends), the Democrats actually did the fiscally responsible thing by limiting the program to only when the state could afford it thereby avoiding a potential budget buster.

Monday, July 02, 2012

New Jersey's Legislature Takes Up Tax Relief In Special Session

Gov. Chris Christie addressed the state legislature in Trenton this afternoon and called on them to enact tax relief along the lines of the proposal he first offered earlier this year.

Senate Democrats countered that they provided tax relief to the tune of $183 million only if the state met the Governor's revenue projections. The contingency is a sound policy choice, but that isn't stopping Christie from hammering away at Democrats who are blocking this portion of tax relief.

Gov. Christie was far too aggressive in his budget projections and it's far too likely that New Jersey will not meet Christie's unfathomably high 7.2% growth rate. New Jersey budget projections for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012 fell short of its projections, and there's no reason to anticipate anything improving in FY 2013.

The conservative move would be to limit spending make conservative revenue projections so that if revenues come in better than anticipated, it grows the rainy day fund that can then be used to pay down structural debt, fund the pension fund, and the transportation trust fund.

Christie has managed to fund the pension funds to the tune of about $1 billion, but that's only beginning to put a dent in the chronically underfunded state pension funds. Much more needs to be done on that front.

At the same time, the state has to address the transportation trust fund so that transportation projects to repair the creaky infrastructure are addressed. The budget ends up using funds from the ARC project that were killed to fill part of the hole, while borrowing takes care of the rest. Additional borrowing only saddles the state with more debt and reduces the amount available for transportation projects in future years as debt service takes up an ever greater percentage of the budget.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Rebuilding of Ground Zero, Part 165

There's been little movement on the resumption of construction of the National 9/11 Museum, despite a visit from President Obama last week and the principal politicians and bureaucrats involved in the museum and memorial process all present at the same time.

New York and New Jersey Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie have called on the National Park Service to get involved in the memorial and museum endeavor, but both Governors ignore that they hold key roles in the redevelopment and rebuilding process. They're the ones to whom the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey answers. If the governors had wanted to get the process restarted and completed, they could have forced the Port Authority to cut a deal with the memorial and museum foundation.

Instead, we're seeing nothing but delaying tactics from the Port Authority and shifting and denying blame for the delays.

And the New York Post is reporting that Governor Cuomo appears to have it in for Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who holds a key position in the memorial foundation - a personal spat is blocking redevelopment:

Gov. Cuomo is so angry about his dad being dissed by Mayor Bloomberg, he’s holding funding for the 9/11 Museum hostage until a new mayor is elected, sources told The Post.

Officials close to Cuomo said it all became personal because of how his father — former Gov. Mario Cuomo — was treated by the mayor’s people at Ground Zero ceremonies last Sept. 11.

The elder Cuomo was first hassled about 6:45 a.m. that Sunday as he tried to clear security and get into the perimeter of the World Trade Center site.

A short time later, he was again blocked — that time as he tried to access the 9/11 memorial. That confrontation was defused only when a PA official intervened,
One of the governor’s top aides, Joe Percoco, was also hassled by city staffers at the event, even though he was in the governor’s entourage.

Events that day only added insult to injury for the governor.

He was already enraged over the way he felt City Hall tried to minimize his role in planning the ceremonies. He was also angry at being assigned a reading from Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, because it had been read at a previous 9/11 event by former Gov. George Pataki.

“Mario didn’t want to cause a scene [on 9/11] so he was quiet about it, but it was certainly raised internally. Everybody has heard about it,” a source involved in the city-state museum talks told The Post.

A source close to the mayor said Bloomberg’s feeling about the governor’s reaction is that “on the chart of crazy, it’s off the charts.”
I'm not quite sure how much we can read into this, but personal politics has driven the redevelopment of the World Trade Center off the rails from the outset. It was Gov. Pataki's decision to pick Daniel Libeskind's master plan despite better designs offered up by the likes of Sir Norman Foster (who had experience doing major projects of the size and scope).

That led, in turn, to all kinds of problems with Libeskind's skyscraper designs that led to choosing other architects to design and build the towers that are rising around the site. Libeskind may have his name on the master plan, but his name isn't associated with any of the tower designs. All that added up to years of extra delays and higher rebuilding costs.

And the personal politics continues - with personality conflicts likely playing a role in bringing construction of the museum to a standstill.

I've argued for some time now that the NPS should have been involved from the get-go and that they are uniquely qualified to tell the story of 9/11, the 1993 WTC bombing, and the history of the site. The memorial foundation may have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for that purpose, but they're still short on how to fund ongoing operations once the museum is open. That's a huge concern going forward because the museum is not only meant to teach current generations about what happened at the World Trade Center, but to inform future generations.

It should not be subject to entry fees to learn about this critical era of American and world history.

Governor Cuomo's office calls the NY Post story 100% absolutely false. However, the issue of control over the site is the real reason work has come to a standstill:
Bloomberg and the governors disagree on who should foot the costs—Bloomberg wants the Port Authority to continue paying, but the governors reportedly "contend the PA is willing to pay its share but won’t write a blank check that could amount to hundreds of millions down the road. The governors also insist that the PA maintain day-to-day control over the entire WTC site. The 9/11 Museum is operated by a private foundation chaired by the mayor." One Port Authority official told the Post, "This whole fight is Cuomo and Bloomberg. And it’s about which one of them is going to control the legacy of 9/11."
There's no reason that the Port Authority should maintain day-to-day control; they've botched nearly every aspect of rebuilding - from the planning and design to the containment of costs and missed deadlines at every opportunity. Much of the work above ground has proceeded despite the efforts of the Port Authority - not because of the agency.

So, while Cuomo and Christie are calling on the National Park Service to get involved, they aren't pushing the Port Authority to do what is within its power to do - namely finish the rebuilding process in a timely and cost-effective manner. That's on them - not the memorial foundation or anyone else.


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