Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Man Said No

With a concept similar to what state DOTs have dealt with for the past couple of years, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made a decision this week. He decided not to move forward with the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project.

ARC was a large, multi-billion-dollar rail tunnel project that would move commuters from New York to New Jersey and back again. The published goal was to reduce congestion.

While that’s a nice goal, it left me with a few questions concerning its proposed drop-off points. I felt sympathy for the taxpayers who wanted New York’s DOT to foot a commensurate amount of the bill with New York’s benefits from the project, and with those who wanted more important stops added to the train’s destination. It looked as though political haggling would then delay a project that the higher-ups needed to ramrod through right away.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who seems more interested in where we have our hands when we’re driving than where we’ll get funding for making roads safer, made a special plea to Governor Christie earlier in October to keep the project alive. You see, the feds were only paying part of the bill, yet seemed to hang their political hats on the project’s success.

According to the Oct. 27 post on bemoaning Christie’s economic decision and giving LaHood yet another place to whine, “FTA does not require cash commitments to deal with such contingencies, and only requires that a project sponsor identify a non-Federal funding stream that could be called upon to cover contingency costs.”

Apparently, Christie didn’t want to search for additional funding streams. He didn’t want the offered loan from the USDOT Railroad and Rehabilitation Improvement Financing program. He didn’t want to set up a public-private partnership assuming some of the risk.

I wonder if he figured he’d be looking for streams to fund the drying federal well. Think about it. If you’re counting on funds from an unreliable national trough, why move forward with a $9 billion-plus project that someone has already said might creep over the $10 billion mark if a few small bits and pieces go awry?

So Governor Christie has made a sound business decision based on what all 50 states have been basing infrastructure decisions on for the past couple of years: lack of long-term funding reliability from the top. Where’s the reauthorization plan to back up the infrastructure plan LaHood wants Christie to sign off on? Ain’t seen it yet.

Let’s get a long-term authorization plan for transportation infrastructure in place before we badmouth the planners for not planning ahead. The project that Christie had no confidence in could have reduced congestion. It could have provided jobs and stimulated the economy exponentially because that’s what construction projects do. But construction projects don’t materialize out of thin air. They require reliable funding sources. I think Governor Christie gets that.

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1 comment:

Sandy Lender said...

As recently as this week, officials in Washington have been berating Gov. Christie's decisions on transportation. While he's sticking to his guns on the expensive rail projects that his state has no funds to pay for, we need more data on his opinions on other infrastructure before the staff at AsphaltPro demonizes the poor man. For now, we think he's done the only thing he could do without a clear, reliable, well-funded highway bill from Congress.

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