Everything is wrong with this story: anti-environment, anti-stimulus, and anti-new- infrastructure.
Patrick McGeehan, Christie Kills Hudson Train Tunnel
The largest public transit project in the nation, a commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River to Manhattan, was halted on Thursday by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey because, he said, the state could not afford its share of the project’s rising cost.
Mr. Christie’s decision stunned other government officials and advocates of public transportation because work on the tunnel was under way and $3 billion of federal financing had already been arranged — more money than had been committed to any other transit project in America.
The governor, a Republican, said he decided to withdraw his support for the project on Thursday after hearing from state transportation officials that the project would cost at least $2.5 billion more than its original price of $8.7 billion. He said that New Jersey would have been responsible for the overrun and that he could not put the taxpayers of the state “on what would be a never-ending hook.”
In scrapping the project, Mr. Christie is forfeiting the $3 billion from the federal government and jeopardizing as much from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The state may also have to repay the federal government for its share of the $600 million that has already been spent on the tunnel.
The tunnel, which would have stretched under the Hudson from North Bergen, N.J., to a new station deep below 34th Street in Manhattan, was intended to double the number of trains that could enter the city from the west each day. The project’s planners said the additional trains would alleviate congestion on local roads, reduce pollution, help the growth of the region’s economy and raise property values for suburban homeowners.
The tunnel was also supposed to provide jobs for 6,000 construction workers just as some other big transit infrastructure projects in the city, like the Second Avenue subway, were winding down.
Instead, the contractors hired to dig the tunnel will soon start laying off workers.
Leaving aside the near term impacts of laying off workers in a terrible economy, what about New Jersey commuters? New Jersey Transit has real transport problems, already:
Michael Grynbaum and Robert Gebeloff, Digging Into On-Time Figures for New York Trains
At the peak of the rush, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., about 25 percent of New Jersey Transit trains entering Manhattan arrived late; about 2 in 5 of the late trains were tardy by at least 15 minutes.
[…] morning commuters on New Jersey Transit who passed through the Summit station were late on 1 of every 6 trips, nearly a third by more than 20 minutes.
The fact that there is only a single tunnel to NJ from NYC, shared with Amtrak, makes it functionally impossible to increase the number of trains.
Christie critics suggest he is planning to divert the funds from highway tolls to road and bridge repairs.
Access to the Region’s Core Project Map, via www.arctunnel.com
In a nutshell, we have a classic failure of the American system. Large and forward-thinking projects are considered and reconsidered for decades, only to be delayed or stopped when conditions turn down, or ideological considerations intrude.
Here, we have a large metropolitan area, with three (or more) states having a serious interest in the public transportation system, but there is no overarching management or political entity that is clearly in control. It’s like some jerk water country with a fragile power-sharing arrangement among various tribes who don’t like each other, and nothing serious can be accomplished because all of the groups have the veto.
Raising the fares to pay for the tunnel is just wrong. Businesses get a huge benefit from the existence of public transport, so the expense — only 50% of which is paid for historically by fares — should be spread out over the tax base.
Our only real hope is that Ray LaHood can step in and divert some more federal money into this mix. Otherwise, New Jersey, New York, millions of commuters, and thousands of workers will all suffer.
Update 8:27am: Krugman weighs in on this question:
The usual suspects on the comment board are, inevitably, arguing that rail transit should pay for itself. The obvious response is that road transit doesn’t; why should only public transit have to self-finance, when private vehicles generally drive on free roads built and maintained out of taxes?
But in a way that misses the larger point: urban transportation is an area in which we know that market prices bear very little relationship to true social costs. Even if you ignore environmental impacts and the national security implications of oil imports, the fact is that driving in an urban area, especially in rush hour, imposes huge congestion externalities on other people.
He cites a piece by Felix Salmon, calculating the real costs of driving in NYC at rush hour, based on Charles Komanoff’s Balanced Transportation Analyzer, a 3.5 MB excel spreadsheet:
After crunching the numbers, he calculates that on a weekday, the average car driven into Manhattan south of 60th Street causes a total of 3.26 hours of delays to everybody else. (At weekends, the equivalent number is just over 2 hours.) No one car is likely to suffer excess delays of more than a few seconds, of course, but if you add up all those seconds for the thousands of affected cars and trucks, it comes to a significant amount of time.
Many of those hours are very valuable things, especially when you consider big trucks, staffed with two or three professionals, just idling in traffic. Komanoff calculates (check out the “Value of Time” tab) that the average vehicle has 1.97 people in it, and that the average value of an hour of saved vehicle time south of 60th Street in Manhattan on a weekday is $48.89. Which means, basically, that driving a car into Manhattan on a weekday causes about $160 of negative externalities to everybody else.
Komanoff wants to use his analysis for another run at congestion pricing for NYC, but one that is based on the actual impacts that the pricing has on the system as a whole. For example, he suggests that buses should always be free, to avoid delays caused by fumbling for fare cards: the delay is worse that the loss of a fare. (A reader mentions the alternative of random checks for fare cards, as done in Europe, or on Caltrain.) Likewise he wants to impose a 33% surcharge on taxi fares, with 10% of the surcharge going to the taxi drivers and owners, and 90% going to the MTA.
Very innovative thinking, and therefore, likely to get nowhere in today’s know-nothing atmosphere.