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In Death of ARC Tunnel, Political Grandstanding Trumps Governing

10:22 AM EDT on October 8, 2010

There's a lot of chatter on the Network today about the death of New Jersey's ARC rail tunnel to New York. Yesterday, NJ Governor Chris Christie officially pulled his state's $2.7 billion investment in the project, killing what would have been the largest federal transit investment in American history -- the once-in-a-generation opportunity to double rail capacity under the Hudson River.

The Transport Politic sees the death of the project as a predictable consequence of electing an anti-tax Republican governor. Market Urbanism and NJ Future speculate that the project's demise has sealed the state's fate as it marches toward complete saturation in low-density, sprawling development.

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The post we're focusing on today is from the Urbanophile's Aaron Renn, who calls Christie to the carpet for confusing budget cutting with governing and passing up an unprecedented opportunity to position New Jersey for a competitive future:

Cutting budgets is easy, actually managing the accomplishment of a major project is hard. Why bother even trying when you’re already a star on the town hall You Tube video circuit? All you can do is screw it up. The crazy thing is, this was already largely an OPM project – Other People’s Money. The federal government had committed $3 billion – the largest commitment to a transit capital project in US history. The Port Authority was chipping in another $3 billion, of which we can assume half or so is coming from New York. So to grab $2.7B back for him to play with in the state budget, he’s forfeiting $4.5 billion in non-New Jersey cash plus abandoning long term infrastructure investment in New Jersey future.

As Christie pulls the cord to fire up his chainsaw once again, I’m sure he’ll talk about the need to balance budgets. But as I noted before, if you can’t afford your infrastructure, and you can’t afford to provide basic services, what you’re really saying is that you can’t afford to be state and are holding a slow motion going out of business sale.

New Jersey is slowly sinking into the muck. In his preening on about costs, Christie is missing the big picture around the change New Jersey – and too many other states – need to make to carve out a prosperous role for themselves in an ever more competitive, globalized, changing wold. If that doesn’t change, the state can look forward to day when its stock is inevitably delisted by residents and investors.

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