By most measures, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s ongoing “Bridgegate” scandal has done severe and lasting damage to his Republican presidential campaign. But his aides’ decision to deliberately paralyze Fort Lee for political reasons isn’t the governor’s only problem related to transportation.
The New York Times reported yesterday, for example, on an even more immediate challenge.
For the third day in a row, electrical problems in century-old rail tunnels under the Hudson River on Wednesday stymied the commutes of tens of thousands of New Jersey Transit riders, illustrating again the shortcomings of the region’s languishing infrastructure system.The delays, coming a week after the board of New Jersey Transit approved a major fare increase, created chaos during the morning rush and gave rise to another round of questions about Gov. Chris Christie’s decision five years ago to halt construction of a new rail tunnel.
In the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane-closures, the controversy is focused on Christie’s team abusing its powers to a criminal degree. The problems in the tunnels under the Hudson River – part of the “busiest railroad corridor in the United States” – have nothing to do with Christie’s team conspiring in secret to exact partisan revenge and everything to do with the governor showing poor judgment.
Revisiting our previous coverage, Christie 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. At one point, 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.
Had Christie shown better judgment, the overhaul project very likely would have been finished by now. Instead, conditions continue to get worse.
This helps add some context to the message of the governor’s presidential campaign: Christie is effectively running on his personality because his record in office is a subject that’s incredibly difficult to defend.