The rarified world of government was recently shaken to its roots by Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey. He cancelled a railroad tunnel that was to be built under the Hudson River to connect New Jersey and New York City. Based on the screams from the left-wing media, you would have thought that life in America had come to an end.
Once Governor Christie made his announcement, the left erupted in its usual, tiresome manner – on the opinion pages of the New York Times – with articles penned by two of its house leftists, Bob Herbert and Dr. Paul Krugman. Mr. Herbert – never a stranger to pointless hyperbole – decried the downfall of America as a great nation. He questioned why a country that built the Erie Canal and the Hoover Dam could not build a rail tunnel like the one that had just broken ground. Funny thing though – not once in his column did he mention anything about cost. Dr. Krugman similarly bemoaned the decline of the country, but at least he mentioned the estimated price tag of the tunnel: $8.7 billion. Of course, he then proceeded to dismiss the impact of this cost on the residents of Governor Christie’s state.
As one would expect in a newspaper written by liberals for liberals, nowhere was there any description of the facts and circumstances that brought Mr. Christie to this decision. The cost of the tunnel, which had been in the works for almost 20 years, had recently risen from $5 billion to $8.7 billion. $3 billion of this was coming from the U.S. government (which certainly can’t afford the money). Another $3 billion was coming from the Port Authority of New York – which they tell us is not the State of New York, but really is – and that state is hopelessly in debt with an out-of-whack budget. The last $2.7 billion was coming from New Jersey. The hitch was that New Jersey was on the hook for any cost overruns after $9.8 billion. Some experts estimate this to be $2 billion right now, with the strong likelihood that the final (overrun) bill will reach $6 billion, all of which would be borne by the 8 million residents of New Jersey. Mr. Christie considered that to be real money.
The elitist left, of course, was apoplectic. It’s not as if the Upper Westside Left really wants to make life easier for the “bridge and tunnel” crowd, who they live to disdain. Perhaps they’re worried that once wealthy New Yorkers realize that New Jersey has a sane Governor, they may start to flee across the Hudson to escape the confiscatory taxes of New York. Or maybe they’ve just never seen a government project that they can’t support, especially one that must be built by their labor union friends.
It’s not as if America works like it did in the mid-20th century. The Pentagon, the largest office building in the world, was built in 410 days. Even more amazing is it took all of four months between conception of the project and the beginning of construction. Now flash forward about seventy years when we have all sorts of improvement in technology. At one of my local parks, three 2-story buildings, a total of about 50,000 sq. ft, are now being built. That is 0.8% of the size of the Pentagon. These buildings were five years in planning and (so far) two years in construction. Egad, our country appears to be regressing.
What are the differences? Certainly not the capabilities of the American people. There are, in fact, three culprits: First, our political leaders have far too little concern for our tax dollars. They think that if the price of a project goes up, they can just throw more money at it. They don’t insist upon realistic cost estimates out of fear that if people knew the real price tag, the project would be rejected. Second, NIMBYs and environmentalists now add enormous time and cost to the development process, an increase magnified by the time value of money. Finally, the requirement that union labor be used on public projects escalates the cost exponentially. It limits competitive bidding and drives costs into the stratosphere.
Governor Christie took a long look at this, and considered the recent history of large public works projects in the Northeast, like The Big Dig in Boston. The cost of that project started at $2.8 billion, ended at $15 billion, and with interest will cost a staggering $22 billion to pay off. He considered the fact that none of the underlying reasons for these cost overruns have ever been seriously addressed. And he realized that if he approved the project now, when they came back asking for another billion and another billion after that, he would have no choice but to approve it. He looked at all these factors and said NO – not on my watch.
Don’t blame the messenger. Blame the people who have caused every project, no matter how small, to be dragged out with study after study. Blame the rules that restrict competitive bidding and require that construction is done by overpriced union labor. Blame the politicians who have allowed this process to descend into this disaster all over our country. Governor Christie was just the first to say no more. For that, he should be declared a hero.
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