Saturday, April 13, 2013
This week in politics, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn came under fire from animal rights activists and some union members, and her poll numbers ticked down. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner emerged to tell all -- and perhaps run for Mayor. And John Liu got a chilly reception from business leaders, a week before two of his former campaign staffers go on trial for illegal fundraising.
Friday, March 15, 2013
The tracking of charities is spotty and there's no way to know exactly how much has been donated. But at least half of the donations surveyed has yet to reach storm victims.
Friday, March 01, 2013
Governor Christie gets to speed through traffic, and he wants you to know. Earlier this week, Christie's press office sent out a clip of the Governor, joking with second graders. Kind of the warm and accessible and funny image Christie's team likes to project.
Speaking Wednesday at a meeting in Montville, an 8-year old named Audrey asked the Governor what his favorite thing to do is. There's a "fun" answer to that, Christie said, and it's "going to New York City." (There's a serious answer to, having to do with making people's lives better. But back to our story.)
How do you get to NYC? the Governor asked Audrey.
The reply: "Usually I drive to the train station and then we use the train to get to the city." But not Christie. "Some people," he said, "in fact a lot of people -- don't take the train. When you're governor, they close the Lincoln Tunnel for you. And you get to drive right through! No traffic! It's the best!"
Wait a minute. The Lincoln Tunnel gets closed when the governor drives through it?
We at TN wondered about that practice, so we asked around.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the tunnel, would not answer questions about whether this is common practice for the governor -- or anyone else. Neither would they say how often they close the tunnels for this reason. "For the record," said a spokesman, "the Port Authority does not comment on security issues."
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Governor Christie, said his office wouldn’t discuss security protocols that are determined by the Port Authority and the governor's executive protection unit.
But two sources familiar with the Port Authority cast doubt on that. "It would take an hour, at least, to close the tunnel," said one source. "They probably just create some room for him to whisk through. "I’ve never heard of the Port Authority closing the Lincoln Tunnel for a governor before,” said another source.
This was echoed by Veronica Vanterpool, the head of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I’ve never heard of the Lincoln Tunnel being closed for a governor," she said. "In fact, I can’t remember it being closed for anything other than a calamity.”
Vanterpool's group, and others, are still steaming about Christie's decision a few years back to halt construction of the ARC transit tunnel under the Hudson River. That would have mean, planners have said, less traffic for everyone in the Lincoln Tunnel.
Christie: Here's my favorite thing about being governor, on the fun side. Going to New York City. Let me tell you. Have you ever gone to New York City?
Governor: Okay. How did you get there?
Audrey: Usually I drive to the train station and then we use the train to get to the city.
Governor: Okay. Some people -- in fact a lot of people -- don't take the train. And a lot of people drive. And maybe when you're on the train and you see the people in all the traffic, trying to get to the Lincoln Tunnel? When you're governor, they close the Lincoln Tunnel for you. And you get to drive right through! No traffic! It's the best! I love going to New York now! I used to hate it because I'd sit in the traffic! Now, no traffic! I love it! That's the most fun thing, on the fun side, about being governor, is going to New York City. In fact, Mary Pat, who -- you know there's lots of things about this job that she doesn't like -- we were going into New York about three weeks ago, and they stopped the traffic. And you go all these odd ways and you go the wrong way on a one-way, it's just great. And all of a sudden there it is, there's the tube and it's completely open and you're flying through. She looked at me and she goes "this never gets old." It might be the major reason she wants me to get re-elected. I'm not sure.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
A coastal Jersey roadway ravaged by Sandy will take two years and over $215 million to repair.
Speaking Tuesday in the shore town of Lavalette, Governor Chris Christie said the state has received federal funding to rehabilitate a 12.5 mile stretch of Route 35 running from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park. The road, which is a block from the Atlantic Ocean, "sustained some of the most severe damage in the state," said Christie. "Thousands of truckloads of debris and sand" were removed in the days after the storm, he said, and the road was "chewed away" in places. In Mantoloking (see above), the storm cut a new inlet between the ocean and the bay.
Christie said the scope of the damage left him with a decision: "Build back to where we were, or rebuild better and stronger." He added: "our decision is to rebuild better and rebuild now."
The new roadbed will be 24 inches thick instead of the current eight -- incorporating both an asphalt pavement top and sub-base materials to act as drainage and stabilization. There will also be a new drainage system and pump stations. "The new system will be built to handle 25-year storms, which is the maximum attainable given the peninsula's geology," reads the press release.
That's reasonable, says Dr. Tom Bennert, pavement expert at Rutgers' Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation. He said the force of the water generated by Sandy was tremendous.
"It would be very difficult for any structure, even pavement, to withstand that," he said. "A 25-year flood, based on the geology, based on the fact that there is quite a high water table in that area, you’re only going to be able to drain so much, is a very realistic target."
Bennert said he was glad to see the state pay attention to the drainage system, which he said is critical. "It’s kind of hard to visualize," Bennert says, "because when we’re driving on the road we just see the top. But really there’s six to 12 inches of asphalt below that, then granular material used as a foundation to support the asphalt." That granular material provides drainage to make sure if water gets in, it doesn’t stay there.
Bennert also said Route 35 needed work even before Sandy hit. "A lot of our pavements in this state have lived past their design life," he said, and that includes Route 35. "It was a pavement that was built quite a while ago and honestly...really needed to be reconstructed to begin with."
The project is being divided into three phases. The first section of the road to be repaired will be the northernmost stretch, which currently has just one travel lane open in each direction. Work will begin this summer.
According to New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Greeley, "the Complete Streets model has been incorporated into our design for all three contracts." He says the state will be installing new sidewalks, as well as upgrading many existing intersections with ADA-compliant curb ramps, high visibility crosswalks and some pedestrian signal heads at certain locations.
Greeley adds: "While there are no dedicated bike lanes planned, the reconstructed roadway shoulders will be built to the same strength as the travel-lanes and will therefore provide a safer and smoother ride for cyclists."
The New Jersey Department of Transportation says that while it tries to limit summer construction along shore highways, work on Route 35 will be ongoing throughout 2013. At least one lane of traffic will be open in each direction at all times.
To watch Governor Christie make the funding announcement, see the video below.
For more, check out the WNYC series Life After Sandy.
Thursday, January 03, 2013
NJ Governor Christie is offering a full-throated defense of NJ Transit chief James Weinstein's decision to store rail trains in yards that flooded during Sandy -- a misstep that cost the agency $100 million.
"Well, you know, if they knew for sure it was going to flood, believe me, [executive director] Jim Weinstein would have moved the trains," Christie said, in response to a reporter's questions. "This is a guy with decades of experience in government, with extraordinary competence, who made the best decision he could make at the time. Sometimes, people make wrong decisions. It happens. It's not a hanging offense."
Speaking Tuesday at a press conference, the governor reserved most of his ire for House Republican leadership, which failed to vote on a $60 billion Sandy aid package. But when questioned about his support of Weinstein, Christie said:
A transcript follows.
Reporter: in light of the report last week that NJ Transit had been warned months ahead of time that rail yards in Kearny would likely flood in the event of a storm like Sandy, do you still support the leadership?
Christie's full response:
"I absolutely support the leadership -- and I don't believe that that's what the report said. I mean, I think you've gilded that report up pretty well in the lead up to your question. I don't think that's what the report said. I think these guys made the best judgement they could under the circumstances. And all of you are geniuses after. Once you see that the Kearny yards flooded, you could say 'well, geez, they should have moved the trains.’ Well, you know, if they knew for sure it was going to flood, believe me, [executive director] Jim Weinstein would have moved the trains. This is a guy with decades of experience in government, with extraordinary competence, who made the best decision he could make at the time. Sometimes, people make wrong decisions. It happens. It's not a hanging offense."
The head of NJ Transit, Jim Weinstein, told a state panel last month the agency relied on past experience -- and the understanding that it had up to 20 more years to prepare for climate change -- when it came where to store its rolling stock during the storm.
Thursday, November 01, 2012
The totality of the damage done to New Jersey Transit by Hurricane Sandy can't be fully ascertained at this point, but the list on the agency's website is daunting.
Rail lines have suffered catastrophically: washouts, downed trees, waterlogged equipment, and track damage. The iconic Hoboken Ferry Terminal is flooded. The agency reports that even the Rail Operations Center--"the central nervous system of the railroad"--is engulfed in water. Although most bus service returned Thursday, nine of its bus garages continue to operate on back-up generator power. And in a letter requesting federal aid, Senators Lautenberg and Menendez write: "the only passenger rail tunnel into New York City—which connects thousands of people to the city each day—is shut down."
Earlier this week, Governor Christie said it could take seven to 10 days to resume PATH train service.
There is no timeline for resumption of rail service. The agency says it is continuing to inspect the system and that "the blow delivered by Hurricane Sandy will continue to impact customers for days to come."
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was asked Tuesday about his support of a plan to eliminate the free ride benefit for NJ Transit employees. Here's his response.
"All these different kinds of perks that are given to employees just aren't justifiable to the general public. You know we had to raise fares on NJ Transit. We had to raise fares because their fare box had been ignored by the previous administration for their entire time here. YOu know? And artificially used federal stimulus money to keep fares stable. When we came in, NJ Transit was in really bad shape. So what did we do? We made the hard choice, we bit the bullet, we raised fares. I don't think it's justifiable for me to ask a working man or woman in New Jersey to pay these higher fares and then have employees of NJ Transit get it for free. So there's really nothing more complicated behind it than that."
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
(New York, NY -- WNYC) Two consulting firms hired to conduct an independent review of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have concluded that the bi-state agency has experienced major improvement in how it is operating -- but still must find additional ways to raise revenue to pay for the region's aging transportation infrastructure.
Last year, in the midst of a public outcry over toll and fare hikes at the agency's bridges and tunnels, Navigant Consulting and Rothschild Inc were retained to take a detailed look at the Port Authority. The consultants reported that under the agency's watch the redevelopment costs for the World Trade Center had ballooned from $11 billion to $14.8 billion.
The initial outside review described a dysfunctional bureaucracy with a debt load that had more than doubled -- from $9 billion to $21 billion in just ten years -- while boosting the compensation pay for its employees by 19 percent over the same period.
Now, just seven months later, Port Authority chairman David Samson says a multi-faceted push to reform the agency has paid off with glowing reviews from the same consultants for the management team put in place by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Samson quoted from the latest Navigant report which concluded "the Port Authority has made great improvements in transparency and efforts to complete the World Trade Center program within the estimated costs." Samson said the agency had embarked on "50 distinct initiatives" to revamp everything from its basic governance structure to how the agency manages its capital projects.
The consultants also backed up the Port Authority's controversial toll and fare hikes as being "necessary" to support the agency's capital spending for its Interstate Transportation Network. That point is still hotly contested by local elected officials from both states and the Automobile Association of America. AAA has taken the Port Authority to court over what it claims is the illegal diversion of toll revenues to support non-transportation related projects like the World Trade Center.
And the same day that the Port Authority rolled out the consultant report on the agency's increased transparency, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis was expressing outrage over the agency's decision to appeal a judge's order requiring the Port Authority to turn over an internal report on the impact of its toll hikes on the New York Container Terminal on Staten Island. Malliotakis says the terminal, which provides 550 good-paying jobs, has already lost 58 percent of their business "mostly due to these toll hikes." "What makes this organization so unbelievable is their arrogance in that they feel they can hide this information from the public who partially paid for this study to take place," Mallitokis said. The agency maintains the report is just a draft.
On the conference call to announce the major reset at the Port Authority, executive director Pat Foye insisted the agency's efforts at cost containment had produced tangible results. According to Foye, requiring the agency's non-union staff to contribute to the cost of their health insurance will save the Port $41 million dollars over the next 18 months and tens of millions of dollars in the out years.
But Port Authority officials conceded they still face formidable fiscal challenges. "Our ambitious ten-year capital plan budgets $26.9 billion dollar in capital expenditures for the 2011-2020 planning period. But there is more than $44 billion dollars of known investments that we need to maintain our region's competitiveness," said Port Authority vice chairman Scott Rechler.
"The agency's 80-plus year-old faculties are at capacity and are in critical need of state of good repair work," Rechler said. "There is a significant backlog of projects due to past deferral of state of good repair expenditures. For more than eight years our tunnels, bridges and terminals departments have not met its 80 percent target of preventative maintenance routines which could lead to more costly emergency repairs down the road in the future."
"The region's airports have aged significantly, frequently ranking among the worst in the nation in terms of customer satisfaction, and upgrades will require up to $6.5 billion dollars in additional capital through 2020," Rechler added.
Foye says the Port Authority is going to look to the private sector to help it finance some of its big ticket items -- like the rebuilding of the Goethals Bridge, which links Staten Island and New Jersey. Foye says the public-private partnership model is being given "serious consideration" for upgrading the Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia, as well as at Newark Airport's Terminal A. He says using this model could help the agency raise the $6 billion dollars needed to complete all three projects.
The consultants identified several areas where they felt the Port Authority could bring in as much as $150 million dollars in additional cash annually in non-toll revenue. On the list of possible money makers: additional advertising revenue, improving toll violation recovery, selling off some of the agency's real estate portfolio like the Newark Legal Center and the Teleport business park -- as well as selling air rights to the Port Authority's midtown bus terminal and its Journal Square PATH train station.
Port officials told reporters they are also looking to raise revenue by bringing new hotel capacity to the area around JFK Airport. "The JFK region doesn't have the hotel rooms adequate to service the millions of people who go through each day," Foye said. "We are working on two or three hotel opportunities right now that we expect to be announcing in the future."
New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a long time Port Authority critic, credited the Port Authority with "responding to years of inadequate accounting and managerial procedures" but hoped "the newfound commitment to proper governance" would endure.
“My greatest concern is that once the agency no longer feels public pressure to reform, it will return to its old ways," Huttle said in a statement. She's still pushing for passage of the Port Authority Accountability and Transparency Act, which legislators say would increase the Port's public accountability and require an annual audit.
Any legislation to reform the agency has to be passed in both Albany and Trenton. The Port Authority, a bi-state compact, was created by an act of Congress in 1921.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
A new trans-Hudson tunnel got a $20 million vote of confidence Thursday -- but it remains to be seen whether it will win approval in political environment riven by dissent over transportation funding.
The Gateway tunnel project-- deemed "absolutely critical" by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a hearing last month -- was proposed last year as an alternative to the ARC tunnel, a similar project cancelled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010.
According to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who 's trying to bring a new rail tunnel to fruition, Gateway is expected to increase Amtrak and NJ Transit's capacity into New York by 65 percent.
Both New Jersey senators have thrown their support behind the project. “The Gateway Tunnel is critical to addressing our state's transportation crisis,” said Lautenberg in an emailed statement. Senator Robert Menendez, also quoted in the email, added: “We are at capacity on all Hudson River crossings, so the Gateway Project is simply essential to New Jersey’s economic growth and for our commuters."
Lautenberg is smarting over the ARC tunnel. At a Senate hearing yesterday, he testily asked a Port Authority executive: "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?"
If the $20 million wins full Senate approval, Amtrak will have a total of $35 million to begin design and engineering work on Gateway. In November 2011, the Senate approved $15 million for the project. Amtrak had initially requested $50 million for a design and engineering study.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Listen to a conversation about the hearings -- and hear some audio from them - below.
UPDATED A Senate hearing ostensibly on the fairness of toll hikes devolved into a slugfest between Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bill Baroni, Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Lautenberg has been seething since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC commuter tunnel under the Hudson River in late 2010. Last summer's Hudson River toll hikes -- raised by as much as 50% -- only added fuel to the fire.
Lautenberg had a line of questions prepared, including when the Governors of New Jersey and New York knew about the 2010 toll hikes and whether Baroni thought they were fair.
But Baroni, a Christie appointee, was prepared. "It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them," he said, pointing out that the senator -- a Port Authority commissioner from 1978-1982 -- had used an agency-funded EZ Pass at Port Authority toll crossings 284 times (a perk -- since discontinued -- formerly available to Port Authority commissioners for life).
Lautenberg seemed caught off guard by the statement, and although he quickly brought the line of questioning back to the toll hike, it looked like he had brought a butter knife to a switchblade fight.
The senator was also unable to pin Baroni down on one of his key issues: what did Governor Christie know about the Port Authority's plans for last summer's toll hikes, and when did he know it? Baroni wouldn't get specific. "I'm not going to talk about conversations that I have with different administration officials," he said -- spurring Lautenberg to retort: "Are you running a protection agency there?" "Excuse me?" responded Baroni, all wounded indignation.
But with all things Lautenberg and Christie-related, all roads lead back to the ARC tunnel. Senator Lautenberg is furious with the governor for canceling the trans-Hudson tunnel -- a project which the senator had long championed. "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?" he spat at Baroni. A brief mic outage muted the Port Authority executive's response.
Lautenberg went on to grill Baroni about accusations of political patronage at the Port Authority, and told Baroni he had two weeks to supply the Senate committee with the names of people Governor Chris Christie had recommended for employment at the Port Authority.
"Sure!" said Baroni. "Should we go through them now?"
"Your impertinence is barely tolerable," Lautenberg told Baroni.
Later in the hearing, which stretched to almost 70 minutes, Baroni described the agency's plans to expand platforms at Harrison's PATH station. "Under the plan, we're going to be able to go to ten cars, and that's going to help us bring more rail —"
The senator abruptly hit the gavel twice. "Thank you very much. This hearing is over."
After the hearing, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee chided Baroni: “I am troubled and disappointed by accounts of inappropriate discourse and decorum by a witness at the Senate Commerce Subcommittee this morning. A basic level of civility is expected from every witness who testifies in a formal Senate hearing and reports suggest that standard was not met today.”
Later this afternoon, Governor Chris Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, sent the following statement dripping with enmity: (full statement at end of post) "Let’s accept the obvious: the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie."
For his part, Lautenberg sent out a statement saying "Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy."
Lautenberg has requested that the GAO examine interstate tolling authorities. Meanwhile, late this afternoon, word was released that a joint New York-New Jersey hearing on the Port Authority -- scheduled for this Friday on Staten Island -- is being postponed.
Read below for a partial transcript of a piece of this morning's exchange. You can watch a archived video of Wednesday's hearing here.
Here's a transcript of part of this morning's exchange:
Lautenberg: The question is: did the size of the increase strike those of you who make decisions at the Port Authority as being fair? I mean, that’s a substantial -- 50% increase to cross the bridge. That’s a lot of money.
Baroni: Senator, thank you for the question, and I know that the conversation we heard, some of my colleagues talking about much it is. But as I described before, Senator, that if you are a cash-paying, non-EZPass using, rush hour driving truck, you are causing the most challenges physically to our crossings. For every fully-loaded tractor-trailer that goes across our bridges, it (causes) 10,000 times the damage to our bridges as one car. But one of the reason we built all of the discounts in, Senator, is to be able to -- those folks who are commuting, who have an EZ Pass, or drive in off-peak, and, Senator, respectfully I understand the concerns that people have about paying tolls across the Hudson. It is something that commuters as you mentioned, Senator, each and every day – but respectfully, Senator, you only started paying tolls recently. For years, Senator, as former commissioner of my agency, you received free EZ Pass. Year after year – in fact, I have a copy of your free EZ Pass. I’ve got letters from ‘01 --
Lautenberg: how often was it used? Do you know?
Baroni: yeah, actually. ’01, ’02, ’03
Lautenberg: what? how many times?
Baroni: I can tell you. In...
Lautenberg: I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness.
Baroni: Well, Senator, you took 284 trips for free in the last two years you had the pass.
Lautenberg: I want you to answer this question. (Baroni. Sure!) Is this fair? Is this toll increase fair to the public at large?
Baroni: I think, Senator, for those--
Lautenberg: talk about the individual cars (crosstalk) I want to keep you on track. So. Let's go.
Baroni: Senator, it's impossible..certainly, Senator. It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them.
After that testy exchange, Baroni talked about the Port Authority's discount toll programs and how many vehicles use EZPass (81%) -- but Senator Lautenberg was doing the slow burn.
Lautenberg: To pull out that little thing that I got after serving after in the Port Authority for four years -- I don't even think about using it, Mr. Baroni.
Baroni: of course not, because we took it away.
Lautenberg: Well, what happened, what happens, it was there, that's what they did, that's what I took and I'm not going to defend it. That's a silly thing to bring into this. I want to discuss your direction of this grand agency and where the money is gone, and why the increases were so large. What - what - is that fair play in your view? Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion dollars worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars a day off the road? Do you want to talk about those things?
Christie's office sent out the following statement:
"As we learned today, Senator Lautenberg himself perpetuated some of the very dysfunction that only now, under Governors Christie and Cuomo, is being reversed through reforms and intensive audits. A few counterpoints raised by Deputy Executive Director Baroni:
→ Senator Lautenberg, a wealthy businessman who was a commissioner of the Port Authority from March 1978 to December 1982, received free annual passage at Hudson River crossings and parking privileges at all NY/NJ airports for 24 years. Mr. Baroni pointed out that in the final two years of his free EZ Pass, the Senator made no less than 284 free toll crossings.
→ At the height of his hypocritical moments today, Senator Lautenberg became enraged when Mr. Baroni pointed out that one of Sen. Lautenberg’s 2002 campaign staffers in charge of “U.S. Senate Candidate Visibility” was hired at the Port Authority after the campaign as a “principal energy specialist.”
While Mr. Baroni told the Senator he was available to talk all day and present evidence about PA tolls and operations, the hearing ended abruptly with Senator Lautenberg visibly angry over the turn of events. Repeatedly, Senator Lautenberg tried to stop Mr. Baroni from providing answers that didn’t fit the hearing game plan or that held inconvenient truths.
→ “I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness,” Senator Lautenberg said as he cut off Mr. Baroni’s discussion of EZ Pass discounts available to motorists and the Senator’s free privileges. “Certainly Senator,” Mr. Baroni replied, “it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls when you don’t pay them.”
→ Let’s accept the obvious: the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie.
→ The toll hikes at the NY/NJ crossings were the last thing the Governors wanted to see happen. But by 2010, the agency was mired in a fiscal crisis years in the making that required the reduced toll hikes the two Governors finally had to approve. And the undisputed fact of history is that only since Governor Christie took office have reforms been enacted, payroll numbers and costs beenreduced and independent audits – warts and all – been ordered. Sure, hold a hearing, ask all the relevant and necessary questions you like, but Senator Lautenberg should have spared us the hypocrisy and fake outrage.
Here's Senator Lautenberg's statement:
PORT AUTHORITY’S BARONI CALLS $12 TOLLS “FAIR”
LAUTENBERG PRESSES PORT AUTHORITY ON ALLEGATIONS OF PATRONAGE AND MISLEADING THE PUBLIC
BARONI ENGAGES IN “DISTRACTION, DECEPTION AND DIVERSION” AT HEARING
WASHINGTON – At a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Surface Transportation subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg pressed Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni on the Port Authority’s recent toll hikes and allegations of patronage and mismanagement.
During his testimony, Mr. Baroni stated that $12 tolls on drivers are “fair” and repeatedly refused to answer questions about when Governor Christie became aware of proposed toll increases.
In contrast to Mr. Baroni, witnesses from AAA and the American Trucking Associations were very clear about their strong opposition to the toll hikes, the burden they put on families and businesses, and the lack of opportunity for public input about the toll increases.
“We called this hearing to help New Jersey drivers understand the reasons behind these massive toll increases and what steps the Port Authority is going to take to fix their serious problems,” said Sen. Lautenberg. “Instead, Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy. Despite this stonewalling, I will continue to stand up for New Jersey commuters and businesses.”
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
(UPDATED WITH MORE INFORMATION) A federal government's report is raising questions about why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie scrapped the ARC tunnel.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie canceled the trans-Hudson tunnel in 2010, saying that the cost could balloon to $14 billion and that the state would be on the hook for overruns. But a Government Accountability Office report says that the state was only kicking in 14.4 percent -- not the 70 percent that Christie was claiming -- and the cost of the tunnel would not have exceeded $10 billion.
The governor is standing by his figure, saying the GAO isn't counting the New Jersey dollars that the Port Authority would've had to spend on the project, and that the state also would have been billed for related upgrades, like a new railroad bridge near Secaucus.
In statement, Christie's office said: "It was the FTA’s own projections, in an August 2010 memo, that confirmed a rise in projects costs from $8.7 billion to anywhere between $10.9 and $13.7 billion, not including the $775 million Portal Bridge Project that was necessary to complete the ARC project in its entirety."
But U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who requested the GAO report, said in a statement that the tunnel was "critical to the future of New Jersey’s economy and it took years to plan, but Gov. Christie wiped it out with a campaign of public deception." He added: "commuters were sacrificed for the short term political needs of the governor."
Here's a pdf of the report, which was released Tuesday.
(with reporting from Jim O'Grady)
Thursday, March 15, 2012
DOT head Ray LaHood threw in a plug for a trans-Hudson rail crossing known as the Gateway Tunnel.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) -- a longtime booster of a new trans-Hudson rail crossing between New Jersey and New York City -- was questioning the secretary at Thursday's Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Department of Transportation's budget. Lautenberg asked LaHood: "You've looked at this proposal many times. What impact might the Gateway Tunnel project have on mobility and the economy of the Northeast Corridor?"
LaHood's response: “We are working with both New Jersey and New York. We know this tunnel is absolutely critical and we will continue our work. Look, if this is the priority for the region, then it becomes a priority for us.”
The Gateway Tunnel, which would boost capacity for both Amtrak and NJ Transit, was proposed last year as an alternative to the ARC tunnel -- which NJ Governor Christie cancelled in October 2010. In November 2011, the Senate approved $15 million for Amtrak to begin design and engineering work on the Gateway project.
You can watch the video of Thursday''s exchange below.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
The New Jersey Assemblyman who died at the statehouse Monday night helped Governor Chris Christie get his start in politics nearly two decades ago and was a close friend and mentor, the governor said Tuesday.
TN MOVING STORIES: NYC Cabbies Protest Outer-Borough Livery Cab Proposal -- Arlington Prepares for Transit Revitalization -- Win The Stanley Cup, Set Transit Ri
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Opinions are mixed over Arlington's Columbia Pike, a planned streetcar corridor. (WAMU)
Mayor Bloomberg's outer borough livery cab street hail plan goes to Albany. (Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile, NYC cabbies are protesting that plan. (AM NY)
NJ Governor Christie's Energy Master Plan draft "barely mentions transportation," according to a columnist. (Times of Trenton)
Both Illinois senators are pushing opposing agendas over public-private partnerships for transportation. (Chicago Tribune)
Adults can learn to ride bikes, too. (New York Times)
A guest columnist in the New York Daily News -- who lost her husband in a car-on-bike collision -- writes that the city's bike lanes are "vital and corrective" and will save lives.
According to one journalist, entertainment on the NYC subway is "a combination of 'America's Got Talent,' 'The Gong Show', and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.'" (NY Daily News)
Win the Stanley Cup, set transit ridership records. (WCVB - Boston)
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
In the aftermath of his arrest on corruption, former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo was asked by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to resign from the board of the state's Sports and Exposition Authority on Tuesday. An attorney for the embattled sheriff told The Star Ledger he has resigned from the post.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie blasted both President Barack Obama and incoming Republican House members for what he said was failing to lead the country courageously when its fiscal future remains mired in debt during a speech before the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
During Governor Chris Christie's State of the State last month it was his rhetorical flourish calling for the abolition of teacher tenure that made news. Without the details, it sounded like just an escalation in Christie's running battle with the New Jersey Education Association.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Texas Department of Transportation executive director Amadeo Saenz has resigned, just weeks after a hand-picked panel of advisors urged his bosses to make leadership changes at the highest levels. (Dallas Morning News)
A foot of snow KO's NYC's bus system. (WNYC)
Will Atlanta's fractured mass transit system finally become unified? "Local leaders...have asked the Legislature to form a regional mass transit agency to serve as an umbrella over the metro area’s various systems." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Detroit is suffering from a plague of potholes, exacerbated by the weather -- and the budget. Video of a bumpy ride below. (Detroit Free Press)
Ray LaHood blogs about vehicle-to-vehicle communication: "intelligent cars talk to each other wirelessly, warning drivers of potential dangers."
NJ Senator Robert Menendez supports the concept of extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Staten Island, but he wants to hear specifics of the plan before committing to full support. (The Jersey Journal)
NJ Gov Christie would rather fight the feds than repay ARC money. (WNYC)
A Bronx-based trucking company paid $450,000 in parking tickets last year; the owner won't participate in the NYC Delivery Solutions parking program. "That program is like paying off the Mafia," he said. "It's saying, 'Here, Mr. Bloomberg, here's some money so I won't clog up the courts.'" (NY Daily News)
The Arizona Republic looks at the future of federal transportation funding, and concludes that proposals such as Mesa's light-rail extension and Tempe's streetcar are vulnerable and could be delayed.
Top Transportation Nation stories we're following:
Congestion pricing is percolating around NYC...again. (link)
The head of the NTSB says that when it comes to safety, we can pay now or pay later. But we will pay. (link)
Houston says howdy to the Nissan Leaf. (link)
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