(New York, NY -- Anna Sale, It's A Free Country) In a political climate with a chorus for cutting, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy is underscoring that he's going a different way.
"We need to argue our case," he told a regional planning gathering in New York City on Friday. "This is not a time to be timid."
He said decisions not to invest in infrastructure — roads, bridges, transit and electrical grids —is "where the most damage is being done in our country."
Without naming names, Malloy blamed "governor after governor, legislature after legislature," for making short-sighted decisions,b but noted, "I'm more than happy, even as I decry what's happening in our nation, to put in my bid to get any dollars Florida or New Jersey or any other state wants to send back to Washington."
He spoke at the annual gathering of the Regional Plan Association, a research and planning advocacy group focused on New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Malloy urged other decision makers to continue investing, "never considering the expense of an item as too great as to hold back a generation of growth for this region. For the full story, click here.
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(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) The appointment by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday of Joan McDonald to be his new transportation commissioner is drawing mixed reaction from those familiar with her work in Connecticut, and, earlier, in New York.
First, the ecstatic: Tom Wright, the Executive Director of the Regional Plan Association (a group that's done a lot of transit-oriented development planning in CT), emails "Fantastic appointment. She was great in CT. We're thrilled."
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transit-advocacy group that also focuses on "smart growth," was also pretty happy.
"Since 2008, NYSDOT has lacked a commitment to progressive transportation policy and this choice marks a new era for the stagnant agency, " the group said in a statement. "Ms. McDonald showed a clear commitment to promoting an economic investment strategy focused on transit oriented and smart growth development while Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. We expect Ms. McDonald’s solid experience to guide the way towards a more progressive transportation agenda and to further promote Governor Cuomo’s sustainability goals."
Now, the less-than ecstatic. Sources in CT who've watched McDonald, who was appointed by former Republican Governor Jodi Rell, note that she ran Connecticut's economic development department at a time when that state dropped to "dead last" in job growth. And, as one source familiar with CT state government pointed out to me, CT's economic development website is literally static when you compare it to say, Virginia's .
There's also concern among some urban planners and environmentalists that McDonald, who served as Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Traffic Operations under former New York City DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, has views on traffic closer to Weinshall's, than to Janette Sadik-Khan's, the current commissioner. Weinshall's views on traffic were recently expressed in a letter to the editor of the New York Times opposing a bike lane on Prospect Park West.
"When new bike lanes force the same volume of cars and trucks into fewer and narrower traffic lanes, the potential for accidents between cars, trucks and pedestrians goes up rather than down," Weinshall, former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel, and others wrote in the letter.
Assuming that traffic volume is fixed -- and that DOT commissioner's jobs entail making that fixed volume moves more quickly -- has been a hallmark of DOT thinking in the past, in pretty much every DOT in the country. By contrast, Sadik-Khan and a new group of urban planners argue that traffic volume is mutable, and that good design can lower the amount of automobile traffic on a given by-way, without hindering people's ability to get from point A to point B.
There has been no NYS Transportation Commissioner since 2009, when Astrid Glynn departed after an unfortunately timed vacation in Borneo, just after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the stimulus bill -- was signed.
McDonald requires confirmation by the NY State Senate. A date for those hearings has yet to be set.
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Christie promised a two-week review of several options that could salvage the tunnel after an hour-long meeting with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
But the Republican governor, in a statement issued shortly after the meeting, insisted the project was "financially not viable" and likely to exceed its 8-point-7 billion budget "dramatically."
"This afternoon, Secretary LaHood presented several options to potentially salvage a trans Hudson tunnel project," Christie said in a statement. "At the Secretary’s request, I’ve agreed to have Executive Director of NJ Transit Jim Weinstein and members from his team work with U.S. Department of Transportation staff to study those options over the next two weeks.”
Christie's spokesman added that steps are still being taken to shut down the project.
The two-week review follows a 30-day review that Christie ordered last month to examine the likely cost overruns that the project will encounter. That review, instead of sharpening estimates of the tunnel's actual cost, ended up merely reiterating the broad range of figures that state and federal had come up with earlier in the summer, from $11 billion to $14 billion. The Obama administration has not confirmed those cost estimates, however.
LaHood left the meeting, held at Christie's office in Trenton, without commenting to reporters. But later his office issued a statement saying the two officials had held a "good discussion" and that the working group would give Christie a report within two weeks.
The tunnel, which broke ground last year, was expected to double the number of New Jersey residents who could travel each day by train into Manhattan from about 45,000 a day to 90,000.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) "People who use New Jersey Transit have to pay for New Jersey Transit." That's what Governor Chris Christie told the Star-Ledger Editorial Board last spring. NJ Transit fares hadn't been raised in years, he argued, and that wasn't responsible. But neither, a member of the board pointed out, had the gas tax. In fact, the fare had been raised three years earlier -- the gas tax, not in 21 years. "What's the difference between a gas tax hike and a fare hike -- besides who it lands on?" asked another of the journalists.
"That's the difference," Christie said. "My policy choice is that drivers have paid increased tolls two years in the last four years and I didn't think it was their turn to feel the pain." (The Tri-State Transportation Campaign fact-checks that -- they say it's actually been one raise, in seven years.)
Christie seems to making a similar policy choice today: with the highway trust fund broke, and no money to pay for roads, Christie says he's reluctant to use state funds to pay for a transit tunnel. Not when there are so many other pressing infrastructure needs. "And if I can’t pay for it, then we’ll have to consider other options," he told reporters.
Now the Regional Plan Association, a New York-New Jersey planning group, has modeled the values of some 45,000 homes and found that New Jerseyans will gain $18 billion in value when the new Trans-Hudson tunnel is complete in 2018.
New Jersey is a transit-rich state, but it's also got the most roads per land mass of any state, and the current Hudson River transit crossings have hit capacity. The new tunnel will vastly increase transit capacity, enabling huge numbers of New Jerseyans who now drive to take the train.
Plans call for the so-called ARC tunnel -- (short for Access to the Region's Core, very un-catchy) to emerge around Herald Square, near Macy's in Midtown Manhattan. It will be connected via pedestrian-tunnel to Penn Station, and passengers will emerge to a a new river-to-river Bus Rapid Transit line, a bus that will be physically separated from cars. Under NYC DOT plans, only buses will travel river to river.