Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is facing blowback over emails suggesting his administration deliberately caused a week-long traffic jam on one of the busiest thoroughfares into New York City, allegedly for political retribution. Lane closures on the George Washington Bridge stranded schoolkids, commuters, and paramedics responding to four medical emergencies. While the abuse of power and petty politics at play have whipped the local fiasco up into a national scandal, New Jersey’s traffic woes have been building steadily to crisis levels for years — helped along by Christie.
Commuters to New York City spend nearly 60 hours in traffic a year, wasting far more time on the road than the average American. Much of that traffic bottlenecks across the George Washington Bridge, the busiest road bridge in the world. Congestion is only expected to get worse as people continue to flock to the New York suburbs.
But as New Jersey’s nightmarish traffic devolved over the years, Christie has dealt severe and repeated blows to the only viable solution to ease the area’s gridlock: public transportation.
To alleviate the constant traffic jams into New York, New Jersey spent 14 years planning and finally broke ground on a new commuter rail tunnel in 2009. The Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Tunnel was expected to double the number of trains that could enter Manhattan, shave off 15-30 minutes from commutes, and convert thousands of New Jersey drivers into train passengers. In October 2010, Christie abruptly canceled the project, claiming unforeseen costs. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report later concluded that Christie had greatly exaggerated these costs.
The money set aside for the thwarted tunnel was then diverted into the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for basic maintenance for highways, roads, bridges, mass transit, and other infrastructure. The trust fund usually draws from gas taxes paid by drivers, but Christie has refused to raise the tax despite the state’s transportation woes. New Jersey Democrats accused the governor of tanking the tunnel in order to avoid raising the gas tax.
The existing commuter rail, New Jersey Transit, also took a hit after Christie became governor. Christie suddenly froze $33 million in state subsidies to the agency. Soon after this decision, NJ Transit was forced to cut service and hike fares for the first time since 2007. The cancellation of the ARC Tunnel also sucked up NJ Transit’s revenue gains, leaving the agency on the hook for millions of dollars in lawsuits and insurance costs triggered by Christie’s decision. Meanwhile, demand for more public transportation is exploding — along with commute times.
In light of this protracted war on car alternatives, Christie’s traffic scandal may strike a particularly sore spot for his constituents. After all, they’ll still be sitting in traffic long after the TV crews lose interest.