Never Mind Bridgegate – Could Tunnelgate Be The End Of Christie?
Of all the mythology that’s been built up around Conservatism in America over the last 40 years, the one claim that has been the most prevalent is the notion that Conservatives are supposed to be better when it comes to things financial.
If the eight years of the George Bush Administration was not enough to demote this meme from myth to fairy tale, then we have only to look at the actions of right-wing governors these last few years and the tragic results they’ve achieved. At the top of that list, from my point of view, is my own governor, 2016 GOP Presidential hopeful, Chris Christie of New Jersey.
I wrote back in August about how Christie squandered billions of state pension fund dollars on risky investments, high management fees and a casino that was doomed to failure before it even opened. The casino he paid $500 million for a small share of last year just sold for $110 million. And most people are at least aware of the trouble he’s been in since last year in the Bridgegate scandal where a huge traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge resulted from potentially politically motivated lane closings that were ordered by someone high in his administration. The investigation of that debacle is ongoing and may yet be enough to end his 2016 aspirations and even his political career.
But what is not as well-known outside of the Garden State is another impending traffic disaster that will make that day on the bridge feel like the good ol’ days, and Christie has no one to blame but himself, this time.
This one could finish whatever is left of his political career after Bridgegate does its damage. It could even result in criminal charges. Moreover, it has the potential to put the last fork into the austerity movement in Washington that has so far held back our recovery from George W. Bush’s Great Recession.
When Christie first took office as Governor on 2009, one of his first acts was to end work on a proposed railroad tunnel connecting New Jersey to New York City under the Hudson River. The project, pegged at $8-10 Billion and funded 75% by the Federal Government had started in 2009 and already spent hundreds of millions on rights of way and construction.
When he cancelled the project he claimed costs were shooting up out of control, the state would carry 7-% of the cost and the Fed would leave the state holding the bag for cost overruns. He lied. A GAO report detailed the truth of the matter.
Construction was halted. The new Tea Party Congress ended all hope – at least temporarily – that new money would be found to restart the work. Despite the setbacks, there was the possibility that sanity would prevail in the next Congress and the project restored before traffic under the Hudson reached crisis stage.
Then came hurricane Sandy.
The storm filled the existing tunnels with seawater, causing extensive damage to concrete and electrical systems and severely shortening the expected service lifetimes of both tunnels. Both will need extensive overhauls over the next few years, overhauls requiring a shutdown. Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s VP for Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Development warned;
“Shutting 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.”
More than 400,000 passengers use those tunnels every weekday. Ironically, the tunnel that was cancelled would have been finished in 2018, just in time to pick up that load.
In addition to this catastrophic misstep, there exists a potential for criminal charges stemming from the flow of money. The state had already received funding for the tunnel project and was supposed to return it to the Fed when the project was cancelled. Instead, the money was diverted to the rebuilding of the Pulaski Skyway rather than pay for it by raising taxes. The SEC is investigating for potential fraud.
In the short run, the project would have provided thousands of high-paying jobs for 7 or 8 years. In the long run, the tunnel would have benefited the economy of the region for decades to come. Instead, there will be a traffic nightmare of untold proportions.
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