Tag Archive: ARC

News Roundup and Open Thread for Tuesday, August 11, 2015

TRANSPORTCLUSTERF*

Eyewitness news: Heading toward but not into the Lincoln Tunnel this morning, there were 100’s of busses stalled trying to get into the single bus lane leading toward the tunnel. On the way back 2 miles from the GW Bridge a sign indicated 34 minutes to cross the bridge. Yes, rain was a problem, but our system can’t handle rain or much of anything out of the ordinary.

Amtrak exec to Legislative Oversight Committee: Train delays in the tunnel may become more common. A new tunnel is needed like yesterday and might have been completed by 2018 had Christie not reneged on ARC. In the interim, there is no viable plan if one of the two tubes in the tunnel has to be taken out of service, Amtrak’s VP told the legislators – a virtual doomsday scenario.

After Labor Day: about a third of commuters rushing to the Port Authority Bus Terminal after work will have to get used to racing toward different bus gates. An improvement or just more chaos and unpleasantness?

CHRISTIEOLOGY – a weird science

Christie finds time to act on some of the 116 bills awaiting his action. Yesterday he vetoed S3107 which would have appropriated $300,000 for prepayment of a portion of FY 2016 employer contributions to the State Pension Plan, and S3100 which would have required the state to pay its pension contributions on quarterly basis. The latter bill would have not allowed Christie to hold all pension payments until the last moment and then claim he lacked sufficient funds. Both bills would have provided earlier payment which would help increase investment earnings of the plan. He also vetoed a transgender and a gun bill. In total he vetoed 13 bills. He signed 27 bills including ones to help those impacted by drug abuse and addiction. See a listing of each bill here.

Christie can tell a Boy Scout at a Town Hall about his security detail, but “Christie’s safety would be jeopardized if the state released a breakdown of more than $1 million in expenses his security guards have billed to state taxpayers,” Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled yesterday. She reached her decision after reviewing evidence presented in private by the head of Christie’s Executive Protection Unit. It’s hard to contest a decision reached in secrecy.

Gov. Christie in Iowa (again). Oh really?

After a disastrous trip to London, bad press over his luxurious travel style and calls for him to focus on NJ issues, Gov. Christie returned to Iowa yesterday to speak to Dallas County Republicans. He said, “What we need in this country more than anything else is some blunt, direct, straight talk to fix big problems we have been avoiding for too long because we care more about the comfort of people’s feelings than about telling the truth and fixing the problems that need to be fixed.”

Oh really? What he thinks of as straight talk is more frequently his solution to a problem (often a bad solution), his bluntness can be crude and rude, and his directness oversimplifies problems. In the meantime he blithely ignores or postpones issues he does not want to address and refuses to turn over documents requested by OPRA. His big problem early in his administration included fixing the transportation fund by canceling ARC, drawing funds from affordable housing, schools, and environmental programs. Most recently he fixed Pen/Ben, boasted about it, and then reneged on the agreement. After months of waiting there is still no plan for Pen/Ben, transportation, or Atlantic City. Also, caring for the comfort of people’s feelings is not a highlight of his career.

After blowback from his inoculation comments, he attempted to recover in Iowa. He said, “I have no concerns at all because when people really listen to what I said they know that I favor vaccines and I favor them strongly.” Oh really? In London he mentioned “choice” and “balance.”

So Governor Christie, combining travel time spent a day or more out of state, incurred police security costs (which may or may not be reimbursed), likely ignored pressing NJ issues, and for what? He met privately with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and spoke to more than 50 people gathered in a hotel ballroom.  

Was Christie’s ARC Tunnel Cancelation Worse Than Bridgegate?

Rachel M. Cohen at The American Prospect makes the case:

Today, few outside the New York metropolitan area know much about Governor Christie’s decision to veto the Access to the Region’s Core plan (ARC), a $9.8 billion project in the works for nearly 20 years that would have doubled cross-Hudson rail capacity, with a projected 2018 completion date. Christie gained notoriety for one Hudson River tie-up in September 2013, when his aides and allies closed traffic lanes at the George Washington Bridge as political retribution against a local Democratic official. But compared to “Bridgegate,” as that twisted tale came to be known, Christie’s veto of the new rail tunnel is a far more serious scandal. For the sake of short-term political gain, Christie sacrificed the long-term interests of his state and the nation. The story of the blocked tunnel is also evidence of a wider problem: Republican leaders’ refusal to deal with failing infrastructure for fear of raising taxes and antagonizing anti-tax groups on the right.

This one’s well worth your time, folks. Cohen asks the question ARC-haters like Paul Mulshine never seem to get around to: if the ARC wasn’t a good plan to expand capacity across the Hudson, why didn’t Christie have an alternative?

Add ARC to the pile of Christie’s failures: pensions, Atlantic City, property tax relief, employment, credit ratings, Sandy aid, school funding, and so on. Not all were created on his watch, but none got solved, most got worse, and all will have to be dealt with long after Chris Christie leaves office.

Christie’s Failed Transportation Policies

After five years of neglect, scrounging funds from Port Authority and highway tolls, and using ever-increasing borrowings, Gov. Christie has yet to formulate a comprehensive transportation plan. With work already underway before he took office, he cancelled the ARC tunnel. It would have increased our access to New York and provided a safety net if the two aging Hudson River train tunnels needed to be closed for repairs. That nightmare struck yesterday with an engineering report from Amtrak that “Superstorm Sandy inundated both tubes of the Hudson River causing significant damage to key tunnel components. A permanent fix is required now.

The seriousness of the problem cannot be overstated. The tunnels are used by both NJ Transit and Amtrak. As reported by the NY Times, “Closing just one of the two-track tunnels for a year or longer “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. It would reduce rush hour capacity to as little as 25%.”

Tom Wright, Executive Director of the Regional Plan Association, said yesterday, This can’t be done because closing the Hudson tunnels would have dire consequences for the region. We can’t close either of the Hudson tunnels until an additional tunnel is built.”

The Gateway Plan is a possible solution. “Amtrak agrees rehabilitation work for both damaged tubes of the Hudson River tunnel cannot reasonably begin until after the new Gateway tunnel is built and operating.” Amtrak proposed Gateway after Christie backed out of ARC. However, no significant planning has taken place, and completion of this proposal between NJ and Moynihan/Penn Station would take 10 to 20 years. In the meantime while less substantial repairs are underway, as WNYC indicates, “Your upcoming delays were avoidable…What happened was…Governor Chris Christie.”  

Sen. Barbara Buono: What’s Not To Like?

In today’s world of media short attention span no sooner is one issue raised in the gubernatorial campaign than it is quickly supplanted by another. We rapidly lose track of the totality – the many differences between the positions of each person. Let’s take a look at key issues and compare the two main candidates.

  •  Property taxes: She’s champions efforts to hold down property taxes by asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share. He does not.

  •  Miinimum wage: She supports increasing it and and indexing it to inflation. He does not.

  •  Earned Income Tax Credit – She supports raising it back unconditionally to 25%. He lowered it to 20% and uses it as a gimmick to further other ends.

  •  School education: She supports more funding for schools and seeks to protect collective bargaining rights for teachers. In his first year in office he reduced funding by $820 million and has been antagonistic toward bargaining.

  •  Environment: She supported the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and wants to put an end to using waivers that allow polluters to dirty our air and water, and jeopardize public health. He does not.

  •  Marriage equality: She embraces it. He runs away from the issue, vetoes the legislative bill, and hides under his call for a public vote on the issue.

  •  Women’s health care: She supports funding for Planned Parenthood. He does not.

  •  Transportation: She supported the building of the ARC tunnel and understands the value of investing in our infrastructure. He ended ARC and he invests too little in our infrastructure.

  •  Gun violence: She calls for the reduction in magazine size from 15 to 10, an end to the private sale loophole, and a law requiring face-to-face sale of ammunition. He does not.

  • Oversight: She has questioned recently the management of halfway houses and AshBritt’s debris removal costs. He resists oversight.

    Senator Barbara Buono lays out her positions on these issues in her web site. The incumbent governor, in his web site, preferring only to laud his accomplishments, does not.  

    What’s not to like?  

  • He’s Not Reading The Same GAO Report As Everyone Else

    Mike Drewniak, commenting on his personal version of the GAO report accusing Governor Chris Christie of “misstating” facts about the ARC tunnel:

    “The bottom line is that the G.A.O. report simply bears out what we said in the fall of 2010 and say to this day: the ARC project was a very, very bad deal for New Jersey,” Drewniak told the N.Y. Times.

    P.S. The Democrats noted this back in October, and were ignored. Shockingly (that was snark), there’s no mention of that in any or the reports today, either.

    NJ JOBS: Infrastructure – Priming the Pump & Providing Relief

    As we rightly celebrate Labor Day for the many achievements the movement has brought to our workforce, let’s also recall that a large number of New Jerseyans are in dire straits. Although the best known marker for unemployment places NJ at 9.5%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes NJ data that paints a broader picture and places our rate much higher – at 16.1%. When including discouraged workers no longer looking, the rate rises to 10.2%, with those only marginally attached it increases to 11.2% and when adding part-time workers seeking full-time jobs the rate reaches 16.1%.

    In the first diary on NJ JOBS, we looked at the wrong track approach taken by our governor and some legislators.  In the second diary we recommended the state set an actual objective to reduce our unemployment rate by 1%, and we discussed how revitalizing private sector manufacturing is so important for workforce growth. In later NJ JOBS diaries we will discuss other ways in which the private sector economy can create new jobs, but at the moment the private sector lacks the ability or inclination to decrease the 16.1% figure. In addiition, each month there are new individuals seeking to enter our workforce.  If ever there was an important time and a role for government it is now.  Fixing our aging infrastructure, which government can influence and finance, would create jobs more quickly than tax cuts and meet critical needs which must be addressed soon anyway. Costs and loan rates are now low and NJ has a large unemployed cadre ready and willing.

    For more on the state, county and municipal need to foment infrastructure projects see below the fold.  

    PA NYNJ: Methinks Governor Christie Doth Protest Too Much

    The great Port Authority Puppet Show is now winding down. After Governor Christie protested the exorbitant proposed increases and feigned ignorance of what the PA was planning, he and Governor Cuomo finally issued their ruling yesterday. Over a period of four years tolls and Path rates will increase to nearly the same amount PA wanted, but at a slower pace. As New Jersey commuters and truckers bear the largest share of these increases, it was Governor Christie, rather than Cuomo, who had the most to lose. Despite Christie’s bluster he largely succumbed to the PA’s wishes and left unanswered questions in the wake.

    Toll Road News sent a Freedom of Information request to PA NYNJ for internal memos and  staff reports regarding the proposed increases and possible bond rating downgrade, which the PA initially rejected for lack of “specificity.” Later the PA indicated their rejection letter was sent in error and they were still considering the request. What did the Governor know and when did he know it may never be answered. However, the PA Board Chair and Deputy Executive Director along with half the board members are NJ appointees, so Christie should have been in the loop. Certainly, as Christie himself has said, he had been aware for months that the PA was about to propose increases.

    Governor Christie on Thursday pointed out that at the public hearings “there were more people who spoke in favor of the toll hike than against it.” What he failed to say was that the hearings were held during rush hour when commuters were traveling and that the hearing locations were at hard to find places. (See the video) Such of course did not prevent the unions from arranging to bus members there early so that when truckers or commuters found the location there were few remaining seats. While the PA masterfully exploited the unions’ justified desire to support the increases which promise more jobs, it also provided Governor Christie with a reason to issue less than robust cuts.

    Governor Christie who should have been more pro-active toward the PA finally revealed himself more supportive of the” big guys” than the “little guys.” Just two weeks after the PA insisted their proposals were essential, they announced that they had found $5 billion in savings that can be immediately achieved in the capital plan. Why did the governor not press for this information sooner? It was the NY not the NJ comptroller who reported on Wednesday overtime “flows like water” at the agency – $86 million of overtime was paid last year to 5,360 employees. After finally insisting that there be a PA audit, Christie was reduced to saying that these revised increases would prevent a bond rating downgrade – essentially a dumb remark as the Governor can not assure what S&P, Moody’s and Fitch will do. He tried recently to influence Fitch but they downgraded NJ bonds anyway. Finally, Christie wanted to protect the PA’s payment of $1.8 billion into NJ’s transportation fund for which he sacrificed ARC.

    So yes our governor did protest, but as the puppet show now comes to an end, the puppet masters, both the PA and Christie, got what they wanted while seemingly appeasing the rest of us. You can read here at the end of the Cuomo-Christie letter to the PA the revised increases which the PA signalled late yesterday its Board is likely to approve today.  

    The Gateway Project, or a second try at a second Hudson rail tunnel

    Senators Lautenberg and Menendez and Amtrak announced plans for a new “Gateway Project” to replace the ill-fated “Access to the Region’s Core (ARC).” The name is an immediate upgrade! The motivation remains the same:

    The existing 100-year old rail tunnels into midtown Manhattan are already operating at capacity during rush hour, and ridership is expected to double in the next two decades.

    The Gateway Project is expected to increase NJ Transit commuter rail capacity into New York by 65 percent (increase from 20 to 33 trains per hour during peak hours).   The new tunnels will connect to the new Moynihan station as well as to a new Penn Station South that is connected to the existing New York Penn station, which has reached its capacity.

    I think this map from today’s Gateway presentation (PDF) is very helpful:

    Gateway Tunnel plans

    As the map shows, notice how much of the work is in New Jersey. That’s something you wouldn’t know from Governor’s Christie’s talk. The Portal Bridge needs to be completely replaced, because it is just too low and too narrow. This plan makes use of much of the existing ARC work. (I wonder, but this is just baseless speculation, if going ahead with it would let New Jersey off the hook gracefully for the money we owe the federal government.)

    The subway plan gets a tunnel across the Hudson but it does nothing for Amtrak and nothing for New Jersey Transit. That’s where a lot of these costs are.

    Agenda 2011: Opportunities & Ambushes

    With the New Year almost upon us, below are just few of the many opportunities and ambushes awaiting us:  

  • Anti-Bullying Bill – Governor Christie says he is forthright and decisive, but is neither in this case. If  he thinks something should be changed, he should say so with a conditional veto; otherwise he should just sign it.  
  •  Medical Marijuana Law – Christie should stop his petulance, get out of the way, and let the Health Department work with patients and advocates to develop sensible regs. We don’t need more obstruction. As Sen. Scutari says, We need a “functioning program that actually provides patients relief.”
  •  Medicaid Women’s Health/Family Planning – We understand part of Christie’s base is anti-abortion, but these funds can not be used for abortion. The program puts more deserving people under Medicaid insurance and provides revenue for the state. A “no-brainer,” as Sen. Weinberg says.  
  •  State Budget Revenue for the first five months appear to be 3.8% higher than expected. However, even with low inflation there will be upward pressure on the budget – no different from what is happening in other states and less serious than in Illinois and California. The real difference between states is those that act with a social conscience, strive to maintain a safety net, and do not deliberately disadvantage the middle class. The legislature will have to keep Christie in check by maintaining more fairness in the upcoming budget process.

    more priorities, below the fold