Quinnipiac poll finds frustrations in the tunnels

By Maurice Carroll
Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Poll

Maurice Carroll

Maurice Carroll

How to cross the Hudson River without a huge delay is a big and significant story called “gateway” – not the newsy but not particularly significant story called “bridgegate.”

For more than a year, New Jersey politicians were fascinated by “bridgegate,” a politically-inspired traffic tie-up in the little community of Fort Lee which opponents tried unsuccessfully to blame on Gov. Chris Christie.

“Gateway” hasn’t been in the headlines, but New Jerseyans are well aware of it. It’s about the only rail tunnels linking New York and New Jersey, which are over-stressed and obsolete. When the Quinnipiac University Poll asked, 92 percent of the state’s voters said that they thought it is important to fix the tunnels; 62 percent said they should be replaced.

At the center of both “gateway” and “bridgegate” is the Port Authority.

The traffic tie-up was on a local approach to the George Washington Bridge, an authority cash cow. The tunnel project would need oodles of Port Authority cash.

Christie killed a different tunnel plan soon after he took office and used money the Port Authority was going to contribute to the tunnel for other transportation work.

He’s been denounced for that – but he was right.

A political columnist in the Star-Ledger, Paul Mulshine, originally blew the whistle.

He noted that the plan was wrong in a couple of ways.

First, it by-passed the proposed new rail hub named for Sen. Pat Moynihan, a visionary who proposed converting the Farley post office into a station that would reclaim some of the architectural glory of the assassinated old Penn Station. Second, the tracks would not link up to any other lines in Manhattan; they’d dead-end near the Macy’s department store basement.

An art critic in The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman noted in a nice story the other day that New Jersey commuters to Penn Station enter “the nation’s busiest and most disgusting transit hub.” Fix the station (and, by the way, re-do Madison Square Garden) when you do the tunnels, he wrote.  “Meanwhile, Gateway is the first step,” he chastised.  “It’s time to start digging.”

A political columnist and an art critic — not a transportation writer. That’s been one of the problems in press coverage of “gateway”: it’s savvy but outside writers who took the lead in writing about it.

The political support is diffuse, too.  The Obama administration says it’s for Gateway, but so far there’s been more talk than action.

And the political leaders who’ll have to push it — the governors and Legislatures of New Jersey and New York – are not only pre-occupied with politics; they have to wring money from the Port Authority, a hard-to-move agency which has spent almost a century resisting railroad projects while cheerfully banking billions of dollars from tolls on the George Washington Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

In “Empire on the Hudson,” the definitive book on the Port Authority, Jameson W. Doig wrote that “it turned its back on the fundamental raison d’etre and on the rail system and found salvation in catering to motor vehicles.”

So let’s see what happens with the new plan.

Categories: Quinnipiac Poll

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