New Jersey's Tunnel Vision

I agree (almost*) entirely with Paul Krugman about the second rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York:

Many reports that Chris Christie is about to scuttle the second rail tunnel under the Hudson. If so, it's arguably the worst policy decision ever made by the government of New Jersey -- and that's saying a lot.

The story seems to be that Christie wants to divert the funds to road and bridge repair; but in so doing he would (a) lose huge matching funds from the Port Authority and the Feds (b) delay indefinitely a project NJ needs desperately ASAP. He could avoid these consequences by raising gasoline taxes. But no, taxes must never be raised, no matter what the tradeoffs.

And it's a social bad too: now is very much the time when we should be ramping up infrastructure spending, not cutting it.


Whatever you think of rail projects elsewhere, they work in the Northeast.  In the case of the New York tri-state area, that's too mild; the fact is, the city could't work without rail.  There's simply no way to cram more people onto the island of Manhattan without mass transit.  Not only are the three major entry points from New Jersey thoroughly bottlenecked, but also, the streets are so congested that bringing more cars in would be disastrous.  And since Manhattan already has roads about everywhere you can put one, the only answer is rail.

To the extent that New Jersey benefits from salaries earned on Wall Street, and other high-paying New York industries--and it does benefit, quite a lot--the rail tunnel will benefit the state by allowing it to get more workers into and out of the city every day.  Unfortunately, improvements to roads and bridges are visible, while rail tunnels are out of sight.  The benefits from road repairs--smoother roads--are direct and obvious; the benefits from another rail tunnel--more frequent trains--are less noticeable, and less likely to be attributed to the project that made them possible.

That's why really expensive infrastructure projects--like the ever-proposed, never-delivered buildouts of the New York City subway system--so often end up getting scuppered when a recession hits.  The pain is immediate, the benefits nebulous, and the legislature scared.

Chris Christie has proven himself willing to make hard political choices for the benefit of his state.  I hope that he's willing to suffer a little short term cost in order to make a big difference for New Jersey commuters--even if they don't appreciate it.

* Really, the state of New Jersey has made so many stupid policy decisions, I don't think you can single this one out.