Nj Governor Chris Christie
Friday, December 07, 2012
"I know there are some folks at Rutgers who are looking at whether climate caused all this, but I certainly haven't been briefed in the last year, year-and-a-half on this," Christie told WNYC's Bob Hennelly last month.
But the question may be more than academic.
The state's transit agency that answers to Christie, New Jersey Transit, acknowledged this week it lost $100 million in trains and equipment. Some critics are linking NJ Transit's decision to store trains in low lying rail yards during the storm to its lack of a climate change preparation plan. The agency said, before the flood, it had figured that there was an "80 to 90 percent chance" there wouldn't be flooding.
That turned out to be a losing gamble, and one, critics say, that reflects a pattern in Christie's term in office.
In his first year, Christie closed the Office of Climate Change and Energy which had been created and given top-level priority under Jon Corzine.
It was run by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Its mission was to ready the state to handle more severe storms, heat and rising sea levels.
“So none of this work is getting done,” said Bill Wolfe, a 30-year-veteran of DEP and now a harsh critic.
“And if you want to get something done, the DEP has all the tools to get something done and they’ve chosen not to use those tools for political reasons, reflecting the Governor’s priorities and Governor’s policy,” Wolfe said. “And they just don’t want to own up to that.”
Robert Martin, Commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, defended the Christie Administration’s efforts. The DEP hasn’t been weakened, he said, it’s been streamlined to cut red tape and wasteful spending.
Thrift is an issue Christie is comfortable talking about. Climate science isn't. As Sandy was bearing down on the region , WNYC’s Bob Hennelly asked Christie if the Governor was discussing the increasing severity of storms with climate change scientists.
“No, that’s over my head.,” Christie replied.
That’s been Christie’s approach to questions about climate change. Once he said he was "skeptical." When he was pressed about the increasing severity of storms, he maintained he’s a lawyer, not a scientist.
“But that’s what we have an academic community to do is to think about those bigger issues and if those experts have an answer for me, my door is always open to listen to them,” Christie said.
Several of the people who lost their jobs when the Office of Climate Change was cut now work in academia -- at Rutgers University.
The Bergen Record earlier this month dug up a video of David Gillespie, director of Energy and Sustainability Programs for NJ Transit, specifically saying the agency decided not to develop a climate adaptation plan.
“The mitigation plan that we have for movable assets -- our rolling stock -- is we move it out of harm’s way when something’s coming,” Gillespie said. “Generally we have enough time to do that, so we didn’t spend a lot of money on that.”
Gillespie said there’s no need to make changes in the next five to 20 years, and that the agency has 50 years to adapt to climate change. That's despite a federal study distributed to all the nation's transit agencies that warned them to protect their assets by readying for worsening storms. And despite the lessons of Irene, where New York's transit system suffered the worst transit damage in modern history.
New Jersey was well prepared for Sandy, said Martin, the DEP chief. “While unfortunately some lives were lost, by and large we protected the state, we protected thousands of lives and lots of homes and lots of property overall and again we’ve done a great job with that and the Governor provided great leadership overall."
And NJ Transit's James Weinstein told a Senate committee Thursday that the agency had no choice -- if moved elsewhere out of potential flood zones, the trains could have been damaged by falling trees, or stranded, as they were during Irene. "Keeping the trains in the yards was the best decision, especially in light of what happened during Irene.”
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Poll results show that Superstorm Sandy has remade two kinds of landscapes in New York: physical and psychological. Beachfront is gone, trees are uprooted and whole communities have been forcibly rearranged by a monster tide. No less dramatically, a majority of New Yorkers are expressing love not only for their elected officials but everyone's favorite bureaucratic whipping boy, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
You read that correctly.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll finds 75 percent of New Yorkers rated the authority's performance during and after Sandy at "excellent" or "good." That's better than the Red Cross's 66 percent approval rating, and the dismal 37 percent approval for the region's utility companies, which struggled at times to bring the power back.
NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota was highly visible in the days and weeks following the storm as his workers methodically pumped out no less than seven under-river tunnels and, one by one, got them back to carrying trains and vehicular traffic.
The NY MTA also showed a fair degree of nimbleness by running shuttle buses over cross-river bridges until the subways were dried out. (Taking a cue, the NY Department of Transportation today announced its plan to run a temporary ferry from the hard-hit South Shore of Staten Island to Manhattan.) And the authority captured the public imagination with an online map that showed the the subway recovering in real time.
The Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 registered voters in New York, also reported that Mayor Bloomberg's odd-even gas rationing system won favor by 85 to 12 percent. Other winners: President Obama, New York Governor Cuomo and, with the best numbers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. See the full results here.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Weehawken, New Jersey, just got racy. Governor Chris Christie has announced a deal with the London-based Formula 1 racing circuit to hold a Grand Prix event around a 3.2 mile route laid out on local roads in June 2013. Over part of the course, the cars will speed along the edge of the Palisades overlooking the Hudson River with the skyline of Manhattan in the background.
Race organizers said, "100,000 people are expected to attend each race, starting with practice on Friday, qualifying on Saturday, and racing on Sunday." They also touted the site's access by PATH train and other forms of mass transit. Local officials said in a statement that no government subsidies were used to land the race, which they estimate will bring "several hundred million dollars to the region annually."
Until now, Weehawken had mainly been known as the place Alexander Hamilton went to be shot to death in a duel with Aaron Burr. Now it will be associated with low-slung, open-wheeled cars racing at an average speed of 185 miles per hour.
Formula 1 holds 19 races a year around the world. The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the sport's race-sanctioning body, says it is "the number one sport worldwide in revenue produced per event, and attracts an audience of 600 million people in 188 counties annually."
The sport has long had its eye on the New York market. Several plans have been floated over the years, including one in the late 1990s for the south shore of Staten Island that called for tens of thousands of spectators to arrive by ferry. Another proposal would've held the race on a mothballed navy base at the other end of the borough. That plan was shot down by residential neighbors fearful of ear-splitting noise from the racing machines.
Note to drivers who find themselves waiting in line at the mouth of the nearby Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan in June 2013: if the driver next to you is wearing a helmet and steering an open cockpit vehicle, he has strayed from the nearby racecourse and, given the normally sluggish speed of traffic in New Jersey, will not win.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) The public is having its say today about steep toll and fare hikes proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. At a public hearing this morning held at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street in Manhattan, drivers and PATH Train riders passionately panned the looming increases. But trade unionists, which stand to benefit if more money goes towards the agency's capital projects, approved of increasing revenues through hikes.
Jason Ertrell is a lawyer who drives over the George Washington Bridge every day from Clifton, NJ, to Midtown. He showed up at the hearing, signed in and took the podium to say he's not happy with what he gets for what he pays. "What I don't understand is how every morning as I drive down to pay my eight dollars, my fillings are getting rattled out and the shocks to my car are getting beat to hell--beat to heck, excuse me."
The NY-NJ Port Authority wants to raise those tolls even higher--up to $12 for EZ Pass users, and up to $15 for drivers who pay cash during peak periods. PATH Train riders would see the base price of a trip increased from $1.75 to $2.75.
But most of the 100 people at the hearing, like laborer Ramon Woodcock, were pro-hike construction workers. "The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is currently a priority and must remain so," said Woodcock. "It is a matter of American pride."
The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is a NY-NJ Port Authority project. Its current price tag is $11 billion.
Governors Cuomo and Christie, who control appointments to the authority's Board of Commissioners, initially balked at the hikes. It's now widely assumed that they're talking to the NY-NJ Port Authority about lowering them. (The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the hikes on Friday.) Those negotiations could be heating up: yesterday Port Authority executive director Chris Ward issued a strongly-worded statement defended the increases it has asked for.
"We recognize that the proposed increase is substantial," the statement said. "But it is also absolutely necessary to ensure the financial strength of the Port Authority and to maintain and grow the critical transportation infrastructure that serves the bi-state region."
A similar rationale was given in prefatory remarks by the NY-NJ Port Authority employee overseeing this morning's public hearing at the bus terminal. It didn't convince driver Andrew Holloway, who began his testimony this way: "Hi, ladies and gentlemen. I think we all know somewhere that this proposed increase is insane."
Thursday, June 02, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) New Jersey is a famously congested state. Though it's got one of the most extensive transit networks in the country, it's also got more roads per square mile than any other state.
So when the famously cost cutting NJ Governor Chris Christie 'coptered over to his son's ballgame the other day, there was both outrage and a possible defense, outlined by Fairleigh Dickenson Public Mind Poll Director Peter Woolley. "I think a good defense is that this is the sprawl state and so it's very difficult to get from one place to another, even when the roads are in good shape," Woolley told WNYC's Bob Hennelly.
But still. Even though Christie was headed to a son's game, he may not have such an easy time playing the family card as he did last winter, when he explained an absence from the state during one of the worst winter blizzards by saying he wasn't going to apologize for vacationing with his family.
Christie may helicopter less frequently than some of his predecessors, but it's almost impossible to spin something like this well. If you're not the President of the United States, you pretty much can't win on the optics of getting a better form of transport than your average Joe, especially if taxpayers are footing the bill.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Want to understand why NJ Governor Chris Christie exited the 10-state cap and trade program? Listen here:
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Pay up.
That's what New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said in a September letter to about 300 state employees who'd been allowed to breeze through tolls for free on seven bridges spanning the Delaware River. The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which is an independent entity and didn't have to make the move, nevertheless voted yesterday to abide by the governor's wishes and eliminate free E-Z Pass privileges for non-work related crossings of the bridges.
The change, which the governor's office says will save $32,000 a year, is scheduled to take affect on May 2.
A statement from Christie says the move will also remove a source of populist resentment: “The granting of free passage to authority Commissioners, officers, employees or retirees, simply by virtue of their current or former employment, sends the wrong message to the toll paying public and represents yet another type of abuse common in New Jersey’s ‘shadow government.’"
The bridge commission joins five other state agencies, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in dropping the perks. The Port Authority announced in November that it would save $1.5 million a year by pulling free passes from its commissioners, retirees and non-union employees hired after 9/11. The Authority said no one from those three groups will have free passes after 2014, when it plans to move into a rebuilt World Trade Center.
The stricter rules come at a time of budget-tightening and after an outcry in 2008 at the widespread use of free passes at transportation agencies in New Jersey and New York.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) UPDATED WITH US DOT COMMENTS: Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott is sticking to his decision to kill the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail.
Scott's decision is a major setback to President Obama's goal, put forward in his state of the union, to link eighty percent of Americans to high speed rail within 25 years.
In an unusually sharply worded statement, U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair said “The U.S. Department of Transportation has addressed every legitimate concern Governor Scott has raised with respect to plans to connect Florida through high-speed rail. We have repeatedly and clearly told Governor Scott and his staff that Florida would not bear financial or legal liabilities for the project, and that there is strong private sector interest in taking on the risk associated with building and operating high-speed rail in the state.”
Last week Scott abruptly announced he would be pulling the plug on the $2.7 billion rail line, the first true high speed rail in the U.S. The Tampa to Orlando line, which was also to stop at Disney World, was to have been complete in just four years -- by 2015. Scott said Florida's $280 million investment carried too much risk, and that he would return $2.4 billion to the federal government.
But a day after Scott's decision,
Monday, February 07, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York - Jim O'Grady and Kate McGee, WNYC) Gateway Tunnel--bride, son, mutant offspring of ARC--you choose--has been unveiled.
Amtrak President Joseph Boardman joined New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez on Monday to pledge $50 million for an engineering and planning study of a new trans-Hudson rail link between New York and New Jersey. It was the first of many steps if the $13.5 billion project is to come to fruition.
Like ARC, which was canceled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for potential cost overruns, the Gateway Tunnel is meant to address a bi-state rail crisis.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Governor Christie's spokesman Michael Drewniak isn't pulling his punches over New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer's criticism on the ARC tunnel. Earlier today, Schumer blasted Christie for making a "terrible, terrible" decision to kill the $9 billion commuter rail train under the Hudson.
"Where was the senior senator from New York with funding alternatives to a project that was predicted to run billions over projections – all of which were to be borne by New Jersey and its taxpayers?," Drewniak said. "This was a ‘bi-state’ project for which Senator Schumer’s state and the federal government were set to pay zero, zilch, nothing for the cost overruns. We can live with the criticism while protecting taxpayers from this boondoggle, which was simply a bad deal for New Jersey."
Drewniak went further in questioning Senator's Schumer's timing and motivation in slamming Governor Christie's decision on ARC, which was made in October.
"I’ll also give Senator Schumer the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t brush up on the topic before he spoke. Unless, of course, his remarks are merely political, which is always a possibility," Drewniak said.
No reply yet from Senator Schumer on this latest round of comments.
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, one of the darlings of the Tea Party, had an interesting rhetorical trope in his speech today. He said he wouldn't call for un-funded tax cuts...because that could endanger the state's transportation infrastructure. Such an interesting series of events: 1) Kill the ARC tunnel because of fears of cost overruns. 2) Get kudos from both the Tea Party and NJ Voters for so doing 3) Re-purpose ARC money for general transportation use 4) Take a stand against unfunded tax cuts. Got all that?
Here's what he says: "I also last week outlined needed plans for continuing to invest in New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure— which we need to be world-class for both jobs and competitiveness. But if we are to fund these investments in the future, we have to control the costs in other programs."