In a speech at a Crain's breakfast this morning, Senator Chuck Schumer called for reinvesting in infrastructure, including repairs to New York's existing transportation system and new transit projects. Schumer also blasted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for killing the ARC tunnel and for his proposal to use Port Authority funds to pay for maintaining New Jersey roads.
Schumer's prepared remarks, sent to reporters in a press release, focused exclusively on the capital side of the transportation system. Instead of discussing fare hikes or service cuts, both of which were completely absent from his remarks, Schumer spoke about the megaprojects that will reshape the region's transit network, including the Second Avenue Subway, the 7 train extension, East Side Access and Moynihan Station, as well as new projects that have yet to reach the construction phase, like high-speed rail and a single-seat train trip to LaGuardia airport.
Encouragingly, Schumer's call for reinvesting in infrastructure was limited almost exclusively to transit. While he noted that billions of dollars more are needed to keep the state's transportation system from crumbling, Schumer did not mention any new highway projects and repeatedly made the conceptual case for transit. "On any given weekday, there are two million people commuting into Manhattan alone," he said. "And it is this very density, which only mass transit allows, that has always allowed our region to attract the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor, all seeking one or more of these opportunities."
Schumer didn't reveal what he'll be fighting for when the Senate eventually takes up the new federal transportation bill. But New York's senior senator did offer one clue as to his priorities. Schumer opened his remarks by arguing that concerns about the deficit shouldn't get in the way of new transportation spending. "In trying to fix the long term problems we face, it would be counterproductive to reducing our long-term deficits if we eat our seed corn," he said, adding that New York built the George Washington Bridge, Triborough Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel and LaGuardia Airport during the Great Depression. With the question of how to fund transportation the thorniest issue in federal policy circles, you can be sure those comments will draw attention inside the Beltway.
In the Tri-State area, Schumer's attack on Christie may make the most headlines. "Pulling the plug on ARC was a terrible, terrible decision," he said. "Historians may well look back at this decision – to put a stop to the largest transit project in the country – as a turning point, as a moment that the region, and the nation, stopped looking towards the future." Schumer noted that the inevitable impact of Christie's ARC decision will just be to stuff more cars onto the existing Hudson River crossings.
Even worse, said Schumer, is Christie's attempt to use the Port Authority to bail out the state's Transportation Trust Fund by paying for work on certain state roads. "We cannot allow the agency to be cannibalized in order to solve short term budget problems," said Schumer. "Nothing less than the future of the agency and the future of our region are at stake."