When it comes to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) transportation problems, much of the political world probably thinks of the George Washington Bridge scandal. For reasons we still don’t know, top members of Christie’s team caused dangerous traffic conditions, on purpose, as part of an outrageous election scheme. Team Christie’s misdeeds are still the subject of state and federal inquiries.
But there’s also the matter of the tunnel under the Hudson River.
As Ned Resnikoff reported a while back, the Republican governor made a bizarre decision in 2010, killing a project called Access to the Region’s Core, “a years-in-the-making effort to build a new rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York City. Proponents of the project say it could have created as many as 44,000 jobs in and around the state and hiked local property values by up to $18 billion. A recent report from the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even suggests that an additional tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey and New York could make regional infrastructure more resilient in the face of disasters like Hurricane Sandy.”
I remember following Paul Krugman’s coverage of this closely at the time. Four years ago this week, he wrote, “At some visceral level, I guess I was expecting Christie to back down at the last minute – expecting that there would be a still, small voice in his mind saying, ‘If we can’t do even this – if we can’t follow through on a project so obviously needed, so clearly in the interests of the state and the nation – what hope is there for America?’ But no. He went ahead and killed the tunnel.”
Indeed, the governor killed the tunnel, for reasons he struggled to explain, after millions of dollars of infrastructure investment had already been spent.
Four years later, Christie’s unusually poor judgment is coming back to haunt him. Ryan Cooper explained this morning:
It was an infuriatingly stupid decision. But Hurricane Sandy changed it from stupid to disastrous. During the storm surge both the tunnels under the Hudson were flooded with ocean water, and the deposited salts are eating away the 100-year-old metal and concrete. Therefore, according to a recent study, both tunnels will need a total top-to-bottom overhaul in the next few years. Shutting even one of them down would basically be traffic apocalypse.
It’s going to be ugly – and it’s going to be Christie’s fault.
The New York Times’ report added:
[S]hutting one of the two tracks in the tunnel under the Hudson River would cut service by about 75 percent because trains headed into New York would have to share the remaining track with trains headed west from the city, he said.All told, more than 400,000 passengers ride trains through the two tunnels on a typical weekday, an Amtrak spokesman said. At peak commuting times, 24 trains an hour pass through the Hudson River tunnel, which is the only direct rail link between Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan and all points west. Reducing that traffic to just six trains an hour would have an unacceptable effect on travel in the metropolitan area, said Anthony R. Coscia, the chairman of Amtrak’s board of directors.
Obviously, this won’t have any practical effects on Americans who live outside the area, but Christie is clearly moving closer to a national campaign and the quality of his judgment will be the subject of intense scrutiny.
And this mess, possibly unfolding in late 2015, won’t do his reputation any favors.