The road to recovery is transportation
This week a spanking new South Ferry subway station opened in Lower Manhattan, replacing the creaking undersized relic with its antiquated moving platforms. The old station, built in 1905, was still functioning and did not have to be replaced.
Fiscal hawks will no doubt read that as more evidence of government waste, but that’s not our point at all. The point is mass transit investments can pay dividends more than a century later and should be funded accordingly. Government should be much bolder, far-sighted and generous when it comes to public transportation.
Up in Albany, the capitol of one-shot budget gimmicks, Democratic State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith is looking for short-term solutions to the multi-billion dollar capital and operating budget deficits faced by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. His plan thankfully was rejected by Gov. David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, two Democrats who favor bridge tolls, the type of long-range revenue stream that is needed to move in the direction of adequately funding mass transit.
In Washington, President Obama had to fight to add a little more transportation money to his recovery package, but a forward-thinking Congress would have realized that mass transportation allocations should be funded in chunks of $20 billion. It’s hard to think of a better way to stimulate the economy than mass transit. It leads to short-term construction jobs and long-term economic growth.
As opposed to targeted tax breaks for specific corporate giants, transportation funding helps everyone from restaurant waiters who can get to work quicker and make more in tips because all of a sudden more high-paid workers are eating in their restaurants, to the C.E.O.’s who can attract more workers.
We’re glad to see the South Ferry subway and the long-awaited Battery Park City ferry terminal open this week. They are small but important steps for Downtown .
We did oppose using 9/11 transit funds for the subway project, but that was only because there were better projects to help Lower Manhattan recover from the terrorist attacks eight years ago. We said then that the station was too small and needed more than one exit.
In this financial crisis and with these budget deficits, it is hard to think big, but we see way too much timidity, particularly in Albany. We know it is not possible now for the state to make large new expenditures, but the bond market won’t be in the tank forever and the mindset Upstate is a much bigger obstacle than the economy. Over a century ago, New York City built what is still the largest subway system in the world. Is there anyone in power now who could get something one tenth that size built today?
Yes, we’d like to see the full-length Second Ave. subway built someday, but why wasn’t it designed to include express tracks like the subway lines built decades ago? How much would the additional costs per year have been if you stretched it out over 150 years, a reasonable estimate of the length of use time? Would a rail link to J.F.K. Airport and the L.I.R.R. look like a boondoggle a few decades from now? Why isn’t New York’s and the country’s transportation systems among the best in the world?
It’s not in politicians’ D.N.A. to think much beyond the next election, but we’d all be a lot better off if they thought about what their great grandchildren will say about them in the 22nd century.