Tri-State Weighs in on the States of the States

Photos: (Christie) Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen, (Malloy) Autumn Driscoll/CTpost.com, (Cuomo) AP Photo/Mike Groll

New Jersey

As expected, Governor Chris Christie’s Tuesday State of the State address focused primarily on rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy. His address failed to lay out any sort of plan for the coming year, and it drew criticism since Sandy seemed to take the focus away from other pressing issues. As for transportation, there were a few notable mentions in Christie’s address, but again, they were linked to Sandy. The governor announced:

  • $20 million secured from the Federal Highway Administration for emergency road, bridge and tunnel repairs, which Christie called “a down payment on a major infrastructure task ahead,” and
  • a commendation for NJDOT’s quick repair of Route 35 at the Mantoloking Bridge

Christie did point out that “[w]e will need to spend our funds wisely and efficiently. We will need to cooperate. We will need to learn the lessons from past disasters and listen to each other.” With that in mind, Tri-State recommends recommitting to a “fix-it-first” policy — something NJDOT has been progressively retreating from in recent years.  The post-Sandy rebuilding should also be viewed as an opportunity to incorporate resiliency upgrades and evaluate roads, bridges and transit systems for climate change adaptability. Sandy was a wake-up call for New Jersey, and the State must re-prioritize the way it spends its infrastructure dollars.

Notably absent from the governor’s address was any mention of how to pay for the rebuilding outside of relying upon federal dollars. Even that will not address New Jersey’s needs beyond Sandy rebuilding. Governor Christie must lead the way to identifying a sustainable funding source for the bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund.

Connecticut

Governor Malloy’s State of the State address was dedicated in large part to the tragic events in Newtown and the State’s response, as well as the State’s budget gap of about $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2014 and nearly $1 billion in FY15. Malloy warned his audience that Connecticut needs to make tough choices “in the weeks and months ahead.” As MTR said Wednesday, he and legislators must avoid deep transit cuts that would make it harder for people to get to work, and in turn, harm the state’s economy.

Though Malloy did not mention transportation directly, he spoke on several related themes, such as the “comprehensive energy strategy” released by DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty last fall. Among the plan’s recommendations are expanded transportation options so that residents are able to drive less.

Malloy cited the work Connecticut has done to become more resilient after Hurricane Irene and the October 2011 blizzard.  He also said the State would “compete for every single job” through its economic development programs. Becoming more resilient and attracting economic development both require a robust multi-modal transportation system, so it’s wise that the State is moving forward with the CTfastrak bus rapid transit line and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line and has begun important discussions about how to promote transit-oriented development in the state.

New York

After the devastation to New York’s transit system caused by Sandy, advocates expected more from Governor Cuomo’s vision for New York’s transportation future. The NY State of the State Book accompanying the Governor’s speech seems impressive (more than 300 pages) and it includes extensive discussion on the necessary rebuilding and flood-proofing of New York’s transit system. But the book skirts the tough issues like how New York’s transit systems can get on more stable financial footing, does not mention the MTA outside of referring to Sandy and fails to discuss how to design communities for a more sustainable future.

The Governor deserves credit for acknowledging global warming with conviction, but his green agenda, while promising, will do little to get people out of their cars. His proposed statewide network of electric car charging stations will undoubtedly help to reduce some greenhouse gas emissions, but it does not address the root cause of sprawl: poor links between where people live, work and play.

There may be some promise, though, found in the Governor’s commitment to invest $1 billion in affordable housing. If this money is directed towards smart growth housing initiatives, such as equitable transit-oriented development, it could bolster efforts to effectively connect land use and transportation decisions. A recent report shows that federal housing policy has thrown almost $450 billion in the wrong direction; Governor Cuomo has the opportunity to show the right way to invest in our communities.

Transportation-related excerpts of Cuomo’s 2013 agenda can be found here.

 

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