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Mon Jul 17, 2017, 12:17 PM

Chris Christie's era of misrule in Jersey: The empty swamp mall and the canceled tunnel

MONDAY, JUL 17, 2017 04:59 AM EDT

Chris Christie’s era of misrule in Jersey: The empty swamp mall and the canceled tunnel

A massive Meadowlands mall boondoggle, and a Hudson tunnel that hasn't been built, typify the Chris Christie era


While Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate gambit rightfully helped kneecap his presidential run, it was his cancellation, in 2010, of a trans-Hudson rail tunnel that will have generational consequences not just for New Jersey but for the entire Northeast Corridor. And yet, even as he pulled the plug on the essential second Hudson tunnel, Christie was doubling down on trying to provide public support to complete a 2 million-square-foot mall in the Hackensack Meadowlands that had already lost over $1 billion in public pension funds and been pursued by three of his Democratic predecessors.

For years now, that enormous mall has been sitting in the Meadowlands and never opened, a kind of white-collar crime scene visible from space, but invisible to the locals at ground-level, because it has become just a part of the New Jersey Turnpike landscape. How it came to be built on state land is testimony to a culture of self-dealing and corruption that reaches all the way to Washington and back to the halcyon Clinton years. It involves names of prominent partisans on both sides of the aisle. Consider, it’s probably the only résumé item that Republican strategist Charlie Black, of Manafort & Stone fame, and the late Democratic governor of Texas, Ann Richards, have in common.

It is hard to imagine but the New York/New Jersey metro region hasn’t always been so dysfunctional when it came to infrastructure. In the 1920s and ‘30s, the region completed no less than four bridges linking New Jersey and New York – the Goethals, the Outerbridge Crossing, the Bayonne Bridge and the George Washington Bridge – all ahead of schedule and well below budget. Of course, that was thanks to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which more recently has suffered so badly under Christie’s authoritarian reign.

In the 21st century, it seems we can’t get out of our own way, culminating in the last seven years of misrule under Christie. The physical deterioration of vital links, like the trans-Hudson rail tunnel between the two states, now haunts the public every day with chronic delays and a certain amount of personal risk every time they use the existing century-old Hudson rail tunnel. But just as with the Bridgegate caper, it’s the public, not Christie, who are caught up in the day-in, day-out misery of it.

For years, the lack of trans-Hudson passenger rail capacity has cost the entire region (both New Jersey and New York) billions of dollars in lost productivity. For decades, well before Superstorm Sandy, engineers had predicted that the existing century-old rail tunnel needed a serious upgrade and that a second tunnel was essential. Yet in 2010, with his eye on the presidency, Christie canceled the project, as a demonstration of his fiscal conservatism on the national stage. He was worried about a $2.5 billion potential cost-overrun on a project he had inherited from former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat.


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