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“The Failure Of Austerity”: This Upcoming Traffic Apocalypse Will Be The End Of Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) is infamous as the guy whose underlings caused an epic traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge as part of some weird political punishment. In time, though, he will be known as the guy who caused the worst transportation snarl in the history of New York City.

I can’t see how this traffic disaster will mean anything but the end of Christie’s 2016 aspirations. The question for New Yorkers looking down the barrel of this sucker is whether it will be bad enough to break the hegemony of austerity in Congress.

So, what is happening? Let’s wind the tape back to 2010. The Recovery Act was in full swing, and all manner of stuff was being built across the country with stimulus money. The biggest project of all was called Access to the Region’s Core, a plan for a desperately needed new tunnel under the Hudson River and a new train station in Manhattan. There are only two other tunnels under the Hudson, both single-track and over 100 years old, both stuffed to capacity during rush hour, with demand only projected to grow.

The cost was projected at around $8 billion to $10 billion, with the federal government and the Port Authority picking up roughly three-quarters of the tab. Construction started in 2009, and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on rights-of-way and initial work.

Then Christie unilaterally canceled the project, charging that costs were skyrocketing, that New Jersey would thus have to pay 70 percent of the bill, and that the feds were going to stick the state with any cost overruns.

He was lying through his teeth. A Government Accountability Office report later detailed that cost estimates had not increased, that New Jersey was only paying 14.4 percent, and the feds had offered to share the burden of any overruns. Instead, Christie swiped the money earmarked for the project and spent a bunch of it on New Jersey’s highway fund, so he wouldn’t have to raise the gas tax. (He’s under investigation by the SEC and the Manhattan DA for that, among other things.)

It was an infuriatingly stupid decision. But Hurricane Sandy changed it from stupid to disastrous. During the storm surge both the tunnels under the Hudson were flooded with ocean water, and the deposited salts are eating away the 100-year-old metal and concrete. Therefore, according to a recent study, both tunnels will need a total top-to-bottom overhaul in the next few years. Shutting even one of them down would basically be traffic apocalypse:

…shutting one of the two tracks in the tunnel under the Hudson River would cut service by about 75 percent because trains headed into New York would have to share the remaining track with trains headed west from the city, he said.

All told, more than 400,000 passengers ride trains through the two tunnels on a typical weekday, an Amtrak spokesman said. At peak commuting times, 24 trains an hour pass through the Hudson River tunnel, which is the only direct rail link between Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan and all points west. [New York Times]

In a blackly comedic coincidence, the canceled ARC tunnel would have come online in 2018, maybe just barely in time to take up the slack from one of the old ones being closed. Now those 300,000 or so displaced commuters are going to have to swim across the Hudson.

Anyway, according to the Times, Amtrak is going to work on the tunnels under the East River first, with no firm plans as to when they’re going to have to shut down the Hudson tunnels. They have a plan for another tunnel called the Gateway, but no way to pay for it as of yet.

And that brings us to Congress. The prospects for action at the federal level are nearly hopeless, but it’s worth noting that if they wanted to, Congress could solve this problem — just by appropriating some money for a new tunnel. Probably the best chance of that will be after the old tunnels are shut down and there’s a massive traffic jam from Newark to Long Island.

But in any case, Christie’s boneheaded posturing is at least yet another demonstration of the failure of austerity. Turns out not spending money doesn’t make crippling infrastructure needs disappear. It just postpones the day of reckoning, and raises the chances of expensive catastrophic failure.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, October 3, 2014

October 4, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Infrastructure | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Undermined By Congressional Partisanship”: President Obama’s Policies Revived The Economy

The economy had already lost 4.5 million jobs before President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, with job losses that month alone surging to 818,000. Economic contraction had also accelerated, reaching a staggering 8.9 percent annualized decline in the fourth quarter of 2008—the worst in 60 years. From this downward spiral, Obama’s economic policies proved instrumental in generating and sustaining a recovery.

In February 2009, Obama enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the pace of economic contraction and job loss immediately decelerated. As the stimulus ramped up, sustained economic growth took hold in mid-2009, and job growth resumed early in 2010—with 3.5 million jobs added since February 2010. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that without the Recovery Act, unemployment would have averaged roughly 10.7 percent in 2010, instead of 9.6 percent.

The Recovery Act was intended to jump-start the economy and avert a depression, not to restore full employment. The $831 billion price tag, spread over more than four years, was dwarfed by the staggering loss in economic activity caused by the bursting of the $7 trillion housing bubble. After economic growth resumed, mass unemployment and underemployment compelled more fiscal support. However, passing additional economic support through Congress proved a Herculean task.

In December 2010, the administration negotiated a payroll tax cut, continuation of emergency unemployment benefits, and targeted tax credits to sustain the delicate recovery as the stimulus began winding down. Without this boost, the economy would actually have slipped back into contraction in the first quarter of 2011.

It should be noted that the Federal Reserve also deserves credit for extraordinary measures taken to resuscitate the financial sector and facilitate recovery. But the Fed had already maxed out its key policy lever, the federal funds rate, when Obama entered office; monetary policy could not have single-handedly revived the economy.

While the economy has improved greatly under Obama’s stewardship, creating jobs for the millions of unemployed Americans who want to work remains imperative. In September 2011, Obama proposed the American Jobs Act, which would boost employment by roughly another 2 million jobs, according to numerous outside economists, including Mark Zandi.

Unfortunately, Obama’s substantive jobs agenda continues to be undermined by congressional partisanship. While more must be done to restore full employment, it is unquestionable that President Obama’s economic policies have been instrumental in ending the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

 

By: Andrew Fieldhouse, Economic Policy Institute, Published in U. S. News and World Report, March 13, 2012

March 14, 2012 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Forward Economic Momentum”: Obama’s American Recovery And Reinvestment Act Has Been A Success

The short answer is yes, the economy has improved due to the policies President Obama implemented with the support of Congress.

Labor market conditions are the most important indicators of whether the economy has improved. Most people get the majority of their income from paid employment and having a good job, with decent pay and benefits including health insurance, retirement, and policies that make sure employees can also be good caregivers for their families. Most have little savings, if any, to rely on.

The labor market is moving in the right direction and this is a testament to the success of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and other steps taken to address the Great Recession. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the private sector has added jobs every month since March 2010, with 245,000 jobs added on average over the past three months. This is a remarkable turnaround from when President Obama took office and the economy was shedding about 20,000 jobs per day.

As a result of job creation, the share of Americans with a job in February edged up to 58.6 percent, higher than it’s been since June 2010. Further, there has also been steady progress to bring unemployment down from its peak of 10.0 percent in October 2009 to 8.3 percent in February.

The Recovery Act and other programs worked because they targeted funds toward a variety of specific job-creation efforts that have been shown to have created jobs and been cost-effective. The President’s Council of Economic Advisers credits the Recovery Act with increasing employment through the second quarter of 2011 by 2.2 million to 4.2 million jobs and reducing unemployment by between 0.2 and 1.1 percent. Economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi estimate that the Recovery Act and other fiscal policies resulted in 2.7 million jobs, and that without them unemployment would have hit 11 percent and job losses would have totaled 10 million.

Make no mistake, there has been sure and steady progress in the economy. But, these gains would have been much stronger had conservatives not blocked efforts to invest in much-needed infrastructure and help state and local governments keep employees on the job teaching children and policing streets. The forward economic momentum continues to be at risk as Congress and state and local governments move toward an austerity agenda that will hinder, not promote, strong growth and an improved labor market.

 

By: Heather Boushey, Sr. Economist, Center for American Progress, Published in U. S. News and World Report, March 13, 2012

March 14, 2012 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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