Calls for Needed Infrastructure Updates at Regional Plan Association Assembly

By Brenda Flanagan

“This is a national disgrace,” said former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden exhorted the movers and shakers at the 27th annual Assembly of the Regional Plan Association to sound the alarm about crumbling infrastructure, especially the century old train tunnel under the Hudson River. Biden noted, this crowd needs to push the Gateway Project and replace that tunnel.

“Congress is now totally led by one party. They don’t like to spend money. I get it. But folks, they have to hear from you or nothing’s going to change,” he said.

Biden keynoted a day of panels that actually sounded multiple alarms: from trains to buses, rails to terminals, our mass transit’s old and broken and so are the agencies charged with operating and maintaining these systems. That’s why trains recently derailed twice at New York’s Penn Station and got stuck in the Hudson tunnel on Good Friday, said RPA Chair Scott Rechler.

“After years of paying more and more for less and less, are we surprised that the public has lost faith in government’s ability to get things done?” he asked.

Rechler — who just stepped down from the Port Authority — criticized the bi-state agency as disorganized and dysfunctional. He claimed it’s so backward, the proposed new bus terminal’s designed for “Ralph Kramden era buses.” He also said New Jersey Transit would do a better job running PATH trains and questioned whether the Port Authority even needs its own police force.

“Virtually no elected official in either state is accountable for the agency’s success or failure,” he said. “The current Port Authoroity structure will continue to fail to fully meet the demands of either state or the region, unless there is change.”

One speaker went even further, stating all the region’s mass transit agencies should be completely re-imagined with a focus on people and service, instead of on politics.

“We are managing our transportation infrastructure through a set of organizations that are deeply flawed for the challenges they face today — in what they control, in who they report to, in how they are organized and in how they are funded. In short, we’ve concluded that we need to re-invent the most important set of institutions we have,” said Rohit Aggarwala, chief policy officer of Sidewalk Labs.

But politics did loom often today as speakers criticized Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to cancel the so-called ARC Tunnel that would have replaced the train tunnels under the Hudson.

“The cancellation of the ARC tunnel in 2010 I think set us back 10 to 15 years,” said Sen. Bob Gordon.

Christie calls that “baloney” and says he’s trying to convince the Trump administration to fund the Gateway Project. But Biden jumped on Christie about the ARC too.

“We provided the funding for that tunnel but the New Jersey governor — as my mother would say, ‘God bless him’ — in his infinite wisdom, shut the project down. There’s still purgatory,” Biden said.

The RPA’s putting together a report with recommendations for future growth and development. And right up top will be that proposal for redesigning the area’s mass transit agencies. The report’s due out in the fall.