Every day almost 400,000 people commute from New Jersey to New York City for work. The routes to the city via the various modes of transportation—car, bus, train, ferry, even helicopter—are crucial to ensuring the continuation of this activity. Currently, however, problems are arising with the existing modes of transportation, particularly from cars and rail. Heavy traffic congests bridges and tunnels, and the rail lines are operating through a 100-year-old tunnel on two tracks shared with Amtrak. Given this old infrastructure and the strategic importance of transportation between New Jersey and New York City, transportation planners should implement measures that would sustainably revitalize these connections. The debacle of the ARC Tunnel shows, however, that planning is often tied up in politics, disrupting the implementation of new visions.
The Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC Tunnel, was intended to build two additional tracks in a new tunnel into Manhattan to alleviate the pressures on the old one. The project was expected to cost $8.7 billion, with $3 billion each coming from the federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The tunnel was approved and construction had started when Governor Christie abruptly halted the proceedings, explaining that he had seen new estimates that increased the price of the project to over $10 billion. Though this study was disputed, construction was discontinued. The money from the Port Authority was instead used to improve highways in the state, a project that could have been funded by increasing the gasoline tax.
Though in the post-WWII period of increasing suburbanization cars were promoted (and needed for that sprawling form of land use planning), there is now an increase in people moving back to urban areas, and studies suggest that young people, the millennials, are less interested in owning cars than older cohorts. By choosing to protect the car instead of investing in public transportation, Governor Christie ignores the changing preferences of society. Further, the governor’s actions lacked economic logic. The state had to pay money back to the federal government for the ARC Tunnel, and the 6,000 workers that had been hired were laid off. The senselessness of the actions suggests it was a political move, meant to make Governor Christie more appealing to the fiscally frugal Republicans and continue the attractiveness of the car. Transportation, then, has become a political tool instead of a public service, detrimental for the people who use public transportation to go about their daily lives.
Instead of using politics to reinforce the position of the car, the state government should be investing in sustainable planning. In Contemporary Urban Planning John Levy notes that public transportation often faces criticism for its speed and difficulty to implement in newer cities, but as smart growth plans emphasizing compact development begin to dominate urban planning, public transportation will receive more investment. For the cars that already exist, the gasoline tax should be raised to pay for upgrades to roads. Outside of paying for necessary expenses, the gasoline tax would begin to neutralize the costs of the environmental externality of carbon emissions from cars, and the money could go to enhancing sustainability in other sectors. Transportation has always been important as a facilitator of connections. In this age of environmental problems, its planning is has more global implications than ever before.