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02.28.2014
Editorial> Beyond BridgeGate
The New Jersey Governor's political scandals run parallel to a series bad land-use policies.
Courtesy wikipedia commons

Scandal continues to engulf the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. His presidential ambitions appear to be dashed, his position as head of the Republican Governors Association is in doubt, and some question whether he can effectively run the state for the remainder of his term. And while The Architect’s Newspaper is not a particularly political publication, it is worth noting how many of the incidents that now cloud Christie’s governorship relate to poor policies on the part of his administration related to the built environment. 

The most obvious of these is, of course, “Bridgegate” itself, where Christie appointees to the bi-state Port Authority closed four local access lanes to the town of Fort Lee, tying up traffic for four days on what has widely been called “the busiest bridge in the world.” A massive and vital piece of infrastructure appears to have been used in a petty political maneuver, the exact motivation of which and level of involvement by the Governor are in dispute.

Beyond Bridgegate, Christie’s administration has repeatedly failed on transportation issues, especially on transit and regional connectivity policies and administration. Christie famously ran for office with the cancelation of the so-called ARC tunnel as a top priority, claiming New Jersey taxpayers would be responsible for 70 percent of its costs. A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office found that Christie vastly overstated the contribution required of New Jersey taxpayers, which would have been less than 15 percent. Martin E. Robins, an early director of the ARC project, told the Times. “In hindsight, it’s apparent that [Christie] had a highly important political objective: to cannibalize the project so he could find an alternate way of keeping the transportation trust fund program moving, and he went ahead and did it."

Then there was the needless flooding of New Jersey Transit trains during Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in more than $100 million in damage due to poor planning. Even the “mass transit Super Bowl” was marred by sloppy crowd estimates and subpar planning, which left some football fans stranded for nearly three hours.

Similarly, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s account of being threatened by the Lieutenant Governor with withholding Sandy-rebuilding funds from the city unless Zimmer supported a controversial development project is only the most high profile of many questions surrounding the dispersal of Sandy-related funds. Zimmer, according to the Times, entered local politics because she wanted to do what she could to address climate change, a poignant motivation for a political near novice in a tiny, highly vulnerable harbor-side city. Christie famously disputed manmade climate change and the increasing severity of natural disasters.

What emerges here is a pattern of policy-making and administration motivated by political gain (or vengeance) rather than by good governance. This is a losing strategy over the long term, regardless of party affiliation. As many economists have noted, cities are leading the economic recovery, a trend that is only going to increase given most demographic indicators. As our cover story, “Jersey More,” shows large, dense projects are reshaping many cities in the Garden State.     Many Republicans support anti-city policies reflexively. Good urban policy should not be a partisan issue. Chris Christie may be learning that lesson the hard way: with his career.

Alan G. Brake