Senator Frank Lautenberg
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
A day after Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie didn't pull any punches over one of their most bitter disagreements: a transit tunnel under the Hudson River that Christie cancelled. The death of the so-called ARC tunnel, for "Access to the Region's Core," rankled Lautenberg to the end.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
New Jersey Transit lost $100 million in trains and equipment during storm Sandy, NJ Transit chief James Weinstein told a U.S. Senate panel Thursday.
The $100 million is part of a $400 million bill Sandy left for NJ Transit. The total includes damage to all 12 rail lines, which suffered flooding and some 630 downed trees. This is the first public accounting of the Sandy-related damage to NJ transit equipment.
The transit agency has been scrutinized in the wake of its decision to store trains during Sandy at two facilities that are in high-risk areas for flooding during hurricanes. By contrast, the New York MTA moved its trains out of Coney Island and Queens, two areas in New York's evacuation zone.
"Based on the information that we had in terms of the likelihood of flooding occurring at the Meadowlands complex, or at the Hoboken yard, that indicated there was a likelihood in the 80 to 90 percent range that no flooding would happen," Weinstein told the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, chaired by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).
In 2011, as TN has reported, the Federal Transit Agency issued a study warning transit authorities that storm surge-related climate change would create risks for transit agencies, and exhorted local transit agencies to move their trains out of harm's way during storms. The FTA said the risk of flooding would increase over the years.
But just months ago, NJ Transit specifically rejected a climate change adaptation plan, as the Bergen Record reported this week. "At a symposium of state and federal transportation officials in March, NJ Transit executive David Gillespie said he had told climate-change consultants working for the agency to skip any analysis of potential impacts on train cars and engines," The Record wrote.
By contrast, the NY MTA had developed a climate change adaptation plan and appointed two officials to oversee the MTA's response to hurricanes.
Weinstein maintained NJ Transit had little choice. He said the agency has few options about where to store trains. "That combined with the history led us to conclude that [yards in the Meadowlands and Hoboken were] the appropriate place to put the equipment, based on the information we had at the time we had to make the decision."
In response to a question from Senator Lautenberg, Weinstein said "this was the best decision, especially in light of what happened during Irene." Weinstein said during that storm, NJ Transit stored equipment in Pennsylvania -- where it was stranded as a result of inland flooding and trees falling on the tracks. "That's another factor that informed our decisions," Weinstein said.
"Some of that equipment was new, up-to-date?" Lautenberg interjected.
"Yes, sir," Weinstein responded. "We had some new locomotives that hadn't been accepted yet. Water penetrated up to the axles where the bearings are."
Then Lautenberg tossed Weinstein a lifeline: "It didn't sound like there were other choices to be made," said the senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey -- who, like Weinstein, is in a position of pleading for relief funds from the federal government in the middle of difficult negotiations over tax hikes and spending cuts to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff."
"If you lay a flood plain map over our rail map there are very few places that are not prone to flooding," Weinstein said. "I had 630 trees come down. If that starts coming down on equipment, it damages equipment every bit as badly as flooding would."
Monday, March 19, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(Hoboken, NJ -- WNYC) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Hoboken Train Station to make a full-throated cry for Congress to pass the Senate's version of the federal surface transportation bill.
LaHood said the House version of the bill is inferior to the one just passed with 72 votes by the U.S. Senate, which he claimed would provide an annual $1 billion investment in roads and transit, fully restore the transit tax benefit and employ 54,000 workers in New Jersey.
LaHood called on Congressional Republican leaders to act quickly. "Speaker [John] Boehner, take the Senate bill," LaHood said himself a former Republican congressman, adding that the bill would pay for crucial road repairs.
"America is one big pothole," LaHood said. "We need this."
Flanking the secretary were Democratic elected officials from New Jersey. One of them, Senator Frank Lautenberg, challenged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to convince his fellow Republicans to back the Senate bill.
"Governor Christie, don't be afraid," Lautenberg said. "Tell House Republicans to back away from the extreme Tea Party ideology and pass the Senate transportation bill."
Friday, August 12, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) For three rush hours over two days this week, the derailed New Jersey Transit train cars sat motionless as roadkill. They'd broken down not far from their point of departure, Penn Station in Manhattan, and were blocking a section of track outside one of two heavily used train tunnels beneath the Hudson River. With one slip off the rails, they'd reduced by half the rail capacity between New Jersey and the central business district of New York--a crucial commuter link that accommodates 1,300 trains a day. Massive delays ensued.
The longer the crippled cars idled, the lower two powerful New Jersey politicians swooped, looking to make a meal of the situation.
U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg issued a statement that essentially said, this is why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie should never have canceled the ARC Tunnel last fall. The project would have doubled the train lines under the Hudson from two to four. With an ARC Tunnel, a derailment blocking one track would leave three tracks running.
"The existing tunnel is over a century old and not capable of handling the increased traffic we will see in the future," Lautenberg said. "Instead of accepting $3 billion in federal funding for New Jersey to advance the ARC project, the Governor turned down the money and settled for the status quo – leaving New Jersey commuters and our economy to suffer."
In an email to WNYC, Christie press secretary Michael Drewniak called Lautenberg's remarks "completely gratuitous." He said the ARC Tunnel threatened cost overruns that New Jersey couldn't afford.
"The senator of all people should know by now that the tunnel project he continues to endorse was stopped because it was a very bad deal for New Jersey," Drewniak wrote, before adding that the governor supported "additional cross-Hudson commuter rail capacity."
As it happens, there's a plan for that. It's called Gateway Tunnel. (See this pdf). Senator Lautenberg is a champion of the project, though he much preferred the ARC tunnel, which would've added 25 trains per hour compared to Gateway's 21. It was also already under construction, mostly funded, and scheduled to open by decade's end.
New Jersey's monetary contribution to the ARC project, which Christie believed was too high, would've meant that New Jersey Transit controlled it--as opposed to control by Amtrak, which already owns and oversees the existing tunnel.
The importance of that arrangement was shown by the recent derailment. Amtrak was in charge of dispatching trains along the sole serviceable track. It's unclear whether Amtrak privileged its dozens of rush hour trains compared to NJ Transit's hundreds, but for the most part Amtrak suffered delays of 15 to 45 minutes while NJ Transit saw massive cancellations and long delays. (It was a bilevel NJ Transit train that derailed. Neither Amtrak nor NJ Transit has cited a cause for the accident.)
Supporters of the Gateway Tunnel say it will cost $10 to $13 billion and ten years to complete. What are the chances it will happen? Next month will provide a clue, when Amtrak's request for $50 million for a design study comes before Congress. A staff member to an elected official familiar with the request said he expects a fierce fight over it, with cost-conscious Republicans in the House opposing and Democrats supporting it.
When trains go through a single tunnel in one direction, they can follow each other one after the other with minimal space in between. But if a single tunnel serves trains going in both directions, the trains must be more spaced out, because a train going in one direction must wait for the train in the opposite direction to clear the tunnel. So, for example, two tunnels each serving 25 trains per hour, becomes one tunnel serving 15.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation) Last week, we noted that Indiana and Pennsylvania had launched formal studies to explore transportation funding opportunities—a move that somewhat resembles dithering, given that both states already posses a keen enough sense of funding sources to have made several attempts at additional tolling and/or taxing and/or privatization over the last few years
Today, the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation (a financial benefactor to Transportation Nation) offer a helpful layer to the drumbeat for more investment. Their new report, Measuring Transportation Investments: The Road to Results, investigates not where more money might come from, but our habits in spending the money we have. Pew and Rockefeller analyze the criteria (or lack thereof) that states use (or don’t) to greenlight projects and measure their success.
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If, in this new age of austerity, we’re going to have to “doing more with less,” as House Transportation Chairman John Mica likes to suggest, then we’ll want to avoid waste. That would mean, in essence, finishing smart projects and not starting dumb ones.
But separating the smart from the dumb has been all too subjective a task, and to execute a single project often requires decades-long agreement among multiple administrations’ officials at the federal, state, and local levels. This precarious arrangement has recently failed spectacularly, and millions of dollars have been wasted laying the groundwork for projects—like the ARC tunnel and Florida High Speed Rail—that would later fall through political trap doors. Turning this game of Chutes and Ladders into a smooth pipeline of worthwhile infrastructure won’t be easy.
“Some Americans may think of the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems as ends unto themselves,” the Pew-Rockefeller study says. “In fact, they are instruments that can influence broader societal goals—from strengthening our economies and giving citizens better access to jobs to creating a cleaner environment. Slowly but surely, federal and state policy makers are beginning to realize this. Still, in many states, this process is in its early stages, and states vary enormously in how well they are tracking transportation’s impact on key policy goals.”
The report goes on to call out specific states as being particularly thoughtful (Oregon, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota) or not (Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire) when it came to employing cost-benefit analysis and performance measures into their 2010 spending. (See the interactive map and state-by-state fact sheets here.)
Monday, May 09, 2011
WNYC's Jim O'Grady caught this exchange on tape this morning as pols were gathering at Ray LaHood's high speed rail presser at New York's Penn Station -- (Transportation Nation)
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, NYC MTA Chair Jay Walder, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chief Chris Ward, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler.
Schumer: Hey, good to see you! Mr. Walder, Mr. Secretary, how are you? Chris!
Schumer: How we doing on the, um, Xanadu? I'm very interested in seeing (inaudible) teasing her, and I said the money should have gone to the ARC.
[Schumer was referring to NJ Governor Chris Christie's decision last week to put hundreds of million of dollars of public funding behind a private mall project -- after killing a $9 billion transit tunnel under the Hudson last fall.]
Lautenberg: Yeah well, there wasn't --
Schumer: Didn't they put state money into Xanadu?
Lautenberg: No. (Inaudible) We're doing good and we're on a mic, so I, uh -- do not feel free to express yourself. Our Governor is not here, I take it.
[The funding is, strictly speaking, Tax Increment Financing, or TIF meaning sales tax revenue goes straight to finance the project. So it's accurate to say its not state funding -- on the other hand, sales tax would ordinarily go to funding all of a state's needs, just not necessarily building a private mall.]
Lautenberg: He was not invited. (Inaudible) That's why I shut the microphone down.
Lautenberg: [To LaHood, a former Republican Congress member from Peoria] You -- you're the best thing that happened. First of all -- when they said it was going to be a Republican taking this job, I thought we had a Democrat who later on thought he was a Republican.
Schumer: No, he gets along with everybody. You know who pushed for him? Rahm Emanuel.
LaHood: He did. Are we ready?
[Schumer was also recently caught chatting with aides before a conference call -- the New York Times story on that is here.]
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Wednesday, March 09, 2011
A congressional delegation today met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, asking him to redirect to the Northeast Corridor the money Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected for high speed rail. The U.S. DOT will only say it will make a decision "soon."
Senator Frank Lautenberg's office issued the following press release -- TN
LAUTENBERG, CARPER, COLLEAGUES MEET WITH SECRETARY LAHOOD, URGE ADMINISTRATION TO REDIRECT REJECTED FLORIDA RAIL FUNDING TO NORTHEAST CORRIDOR
WASHINGTON— During a meeting today in Senator Lautenberg’s office, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DE), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Coons (D-DE) asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect the $2.4 billion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funds rejected by the state of Florida to the Northeast Corridor.
Monday, February 28, 2011
(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) Have you ever been out to a restaurant with a group of people and one person didn't quite finish their entree? Whenever this happens, I'm usually the first to broach that eternal question, "You gonna eat that?"
I realize in some circles this is interpreted as uncouth behavior. I ask the question not to offend, but simply as a means to distribute a meal more efficiently. In other words, if you're not going to eat it, I will.
And I'm not the only one who holds these controversial views. Ten Democratic Senators from the northeast sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday asking that $2.4 million in high speed rail funds semi-rejected by Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) be redirected to their states. In other words, if Florida won't eat it, they will.
Full text of the letter after the jump...
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.
Friday, January 07, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's announcement yesterday that he was putting forward a "responsible transportation capital plan," drew a quick torrent of criticism from transit advocates already stung by huge fare hikes and, later, the death of the trans-Hudson passenger rail ARC tunnel.
Christie's move does seem to take NJ transportation funding back to the future -- to a time when road-building was prioritized over transit. In the 1950's and through the end of the twentieth century, U.S. transportation policy favored road funding over transit funding at a ratio of about eighty to twenty percent. In the last decade, everyone from urban planning graduate students to President Barack Obama have decried the sprawl such funding formulas created.
But for Christie, the ARC tunnel was an unsustainable project, getting built as NJ's Highway Trust Fund was broke and roads were falling into disrepair. By re-purposing this funding, Christie says, he's taking the fiscally responsible route.
"Over each of the next five years the Christie Plan will increase cash contributions used to fund transportation projects while at the same time decreasing the use of borrowing.
Friday, January 07, 2011
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg accused Gov. Chris Christie of using money that would have gone to the nation's biggest transit project as "a fix for his political problems." Christie, who killed a $9 billion commuter rail project under the Hudson River last Fall, is planning to use some of the funds that had been designated for the ARC tunnel elsewhere.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Here's the full statement from NJ Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on the decision to kill the ARC tunnel by NJ Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) earlier Wednesday.
LAUTENBERG BLASTS GOV. CHRISTIE’S DECISION TO KILL ARC TUNNEL PROJECT
SENATOR DEBUNKS GOVERNOR’S ARC TUNNEL MYTHS
NEWARK – Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) issued the following statement in response to Governor Chris Christie’s decision to kill the critical Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Tunnel project:
“The Governor was given a deal from the federal government on Sunday that put no extra imposition on the state of New Jersey for its obligation to the ARC Tunnel project, and the Governor refused it. It was clear from the beginning that Governor Christie planned to kill the ARC Tunnel no matter what. In doing so, the Governor has once again put politics over performance.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Speaking at a hospital bill signing event in Newark today, NJ Governor Chris Christie, who is just back from a midwest swing where he was campaigning for fellow Republicans, says he hasn't had time to meet with his transit director and his transportation commissioner to "review cost estimates" of the 8.7 billion dollar ARC commuter tunnel.
Christie said he'll be doing "a cold-hearted analysis of whether New Jersey can afford," the tunnel.
Sources say he's already made up his mind to divert New Jersey's 2.7 billion contribution to the ARC to roads, forfeiting the $3 billion federal transit administration new starts funding.
Christie rejected the idea, as Senator Frank Lautenberg has suggested, that the Port Authority guarantee overruns, maintaining much of the Port Authority's revenue comes from New Jersey tollpayers. Full story here.