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Tunnel Vision: Jersey Governor Christie Reconsidering Hudson Rail Tunnel Shutdown?

What A Sweetheart, Am I Right?

Except when we don’t adhere to this policy, it’s generally our policy here at gbNYC to stick to writing about green building in New York City and its environs, with the periodic meandering commentary on green building trends and the like mixed in. It’s just easier that way — I have my own blog where I can write about my feelings and sports and my feelings about sports, and it’s generally wiser to stick to the green building/New York stuff here at GreenbuildingsNYC. Obvious reasons and such. But I’ve been trying to find a way to write about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s appalling, irresponsible, short-sighted and cynical — and thus fairly typical — decision to cancel the Access To The Region’s Core (ARC) project, a long-planned second rail tunnel under the Hudson River. I’ve been trying since Paul Krugman gave Christie’s maneuver an elegant and thorough stomping in the New York Times nearly two weeks ago. Considering that I’ve written only a handful of posts since then, I suppose I could say that I spent the last couple weeks rounding out a truly world-historical critique of Chris Christie’s utterly predictable Chris Christie-ism, but that would be false — I’ve been busy, and every time I’ve started this post I just get kind of bummed out. And not the sort of righteous, New Domino-trashing bummed out that results in me getting feisty. It’s more me in my melancholic-existential mode, which you can see in certain posts, but which is generally a cue that I should probably hold off on hitting the “publish” button. No one likes a whiny blogger, especially when what he’s whining about seems only tangentially related to his blog’s stated purpose and (freaking) title. So there’s that.

There’s also the matter of Krugman having already written most of what needs to be written about Christie’s decision — citing a price tag that three sources told the Associated Press was a whopping $4 billion higher than the project’s actual estimated cost — back in the mist-swathed, near-mythic and near-forgotten first week of October. There’s not really much improving on that column, which marshals the economic arguments for ARC — interest rates are the lowest they’ve been in generations, which makes borrowing to fund a massive public works project like this less expensive; the labor market is glutted, which makes finding contractors for all those jobs (which everyone, especially your average politician, loves) a snap; the state of New Jersey was paying just a third of the $8.7 billion tab — and the more commonsense sustainability ones. Those are easy enough to see: “With almost 1,200 people per square mile, New Jersey is the most densely populated state in America, more densely populated than any major European nation,” Krugman explains. “Add in the fact that many residents work in New York, and you have a state that can’t function without adequate public transportation. There just isn’t enough space for everyone to drive to work. The need for another (rail) tunnel couldn’t be more obvious.”

And of course it couldn’t. I’m almost embarrassed even to be explaining it here — anyone with a working knowledge of North Jersey or the basic way in which mass transit works (which is to say pretty freaking well when it’s adequately funded and has enough means of traversing major obstacles such as rivers) understands just how much this project could mean to both the bottom-line and sustainability-related issues of both New York and New Jersey. Taking cars off the road by providing a more attractive transportation alternative, creating short-term jobs (providing a stimulus, if you will) and supporting a tax base that needs to get to its jobs in NYC… all of this is very obvious. As is the reason for Chris Christie blocking it, sadly.

You don’t even need to know anything about Christie — a perma-scowled, ultra-charmless graduate of The Bill Parcells School of Human Relations who has become a national conservative star through his ultra-regressive attempts to balance the state’s budget through service cuts to things like New Jersey Transit — to understand his decision. Simply read one of the paeans to Christie’s move in the conservative press, like this one from the Manhattan Institute’s Steve Malanga in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section — Christie’s decision, and the right’s response to it, reflects not just the standard facile deficit-hawk absolutism, but also the further narrowing of a very important public discourse into something so politicized as to have been rendered nonsensical. Malanga, for those of you without the heart to click that link, is arguing that “the infrastructure uber alles” crowd exaggerates the benefits not just of this project, but of mass transit and infrastructure projects in general. It’s not quite the epic cynicism of calls for “more study” on climate change, but you can see it from there — a sort of reflexive anti-the-opposite-side’s-argument approach that turns every issue, even those on which a wealth of information points to a simple-enough conclusion, into a solipsistic exercise in further gaming the blue-team/red-team rhetorical binary. The AFL-CIO is rallying to get ARC back on track? Well, Christie hates those guys, and Steve Malanga’s already slapdashing out an opinion peace.

It’s depressing, this sort of non-discussion, mostly because it’s so irresponsible — when people like former New Jersey State Planning Commission member Joseph Maraziti write reasoned arguments in favor of the tunnel’s construction that point out how quickly and manifestly the project will pay for itself in the long run, Malanga and his ilk simply decide to have another conversation entirely. That Maraziti’s a Jersey political lifer and Malanga a sinecured hack at a conservative think tank might be a cheap shot, but it’s not immaterial. One side is simply taking this — even the deficit-spending bit, which Maraziti and Krugman both address, if only to dismiss it by pointing out ARC’s economic multiplier effect — a lot more seriously than the other. The reason we at gbNYC take it so seriously is a combination of the two.

As New Jersey folk and people who aspire to a cleaner, smarter and more effective built environment both in and around the city, the benefits of the ARC project are obvious. And as something of a partisan when it comes to this sort of thing — it’s safe to say you won’t see me link approvingly to anything from the Journal’s opinion page, ever — I also hate seeing this sort of crass, information-averse argument both in command and in action. But the former feeds the latter: ARC, which Krugman rightly terms America’s most important ongoing public works project, is simply too important to be gamed n’ framed into oblivion. There’s a chance, with the news that Christie may be reconsidering and extended his personal deadline for notifying Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of his decision, that the ARC project could be saved. Monday brought no news of Christie’s decision, which was originally expected last Friday. We can’t do much but hope, of course. But if our endorsement of ARC and our repudiation of this cynical and flatly stupid move were ever in doubt, hopefully things are clearer now.

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