It’s been a long, long time since I last blogged. This is largely due to a plethora of internal/personal conflicts and issues as well as a healthy dose of procrastination and inertia. All of this has rendered me less-than-optimally productive at my job.
Why whaddya know? I've been kinda like Congress—especially when it comes to Congress doing something about transportation funding.
Congress has kicked the can down the road with interim short-term bills a few too many times. It’s like giving a heart attack patient multiple CPR treatments every time his heart stops beating. Now he needs a triple bypass.
That patient is the U.S. infrastructure system. Even as it awaits that operation, its arteries increasingly clog. Projects to improve or replace major bridges are like stents—they help, but they can’t solve the underlying condition.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo just announced the official start of one of these “stent” projects—the $1.5-billion Goethals Bridge replacement between Staten Island and New Jersey. This comes just a couple of weeks after New Jersey DOT shut down one-half of the Pulaski Skyway for two years, with a massive public outreach effort and collaboration with fellow area transportation agencies on traffic management that I found impressive.
Impressive, and necessary. Pulaski, Goethals, the Portal Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel—all are occurring within the same timeframe over the next few years. And it’s still not enough; Amtrak President Joe Boardman recently stated that the two rail tunnels under the Hudson River has at most 20 years of service life left.
Sam Schwartz, aka “Gridlock Sam,” former first deputy New York City DOT commissioner, says the amount of construction in the struggle to achieve a State of Good Repair has not been this extreme since his tenure in the 1980s, “when NYC came out of near-bankruptcy. With no capital budget, it had put off projects. When work finally resumed, we were on all four East River bridges at the same time,” he notes. The delayed work had consequences; the West Side Highway had collapsed in 1973 and a deck of the FDR Drive collapsed in 1989, killing a motorist.
And here we are again. “In some way shape or form every agency—the New Jersey Turnpike, NJ Transit, the Port Authority, the DOT, all the local entities—have many things happening at the same time in the area,” says Schwartz. “I’m just hoping the funding remains in place for all these projects.”
And that’s just the New York-New Jersey area. There are patients in serious condition all over the country. The funding needs to remain in place for all these projects.
Congress needs to freakin’ do something.
Rest in peace, Jim Oberstar. May your legacy be honored in the next, hopefully long-term transportation reauthorization bill.