Having been rather frustrated by the lack of much serious discussion of guiding any of the so-called stimulus money towards investment in much needed mass transit infrastructure upgrades, I decided to compose a letter to my two Senators and one local Representative asking them to work towards this agenda. I’ve attached my text below, and I implore registered USA voters to send a similar letter to their own congressional delegation, and to pass along a request to potentially interested registered voters you know. So few people actually write politicians on these issues that a surprisingly small number of contacts can, on occasion, spur them to take at least a mild stand on an issue. This is the first time in many years that Congress has even considered taking an interest in mass transit/rail investment and we mustn’t let it pass without at least making this petty effort.
As a New Jersey resident who commutes via New Jersey Transit to Manhattan and the NYC Subway, and uses personal automobiles fairly little, I believe that this is a lifestyle that works well, and could work well for much more of America given the proper infrastructure. This is why I am appalled to hear how little of the $850 Billion “stimulus package” is being devoted to mass transit projects. Allegedly this money is reserved for so-called “shovel ready projects”, which have already been largely planned and need funding to complete. Well, don’t we have a lot of those in the greater New York-New Jersey rail system? From the infamously delayed and underfunded Second Avenue Subway or reopening of abandoned Station Island Railroad lines in NYC to the Trans Hudson Express Tunnel, the indefinitely postponed Newark Elizabeth Light Rail, the proposed Passaic-Bergen Line or Monmouth Ocean Middlesex Line or restoration of the Lackawanna cutoff or other well-preserved legacy train lines, New Jersey and NYC could easily soak up all $10-15 Billion of the money already allocated for mass transit.
And of course this is without considering larger scale projects such as the reconstruction of ancient electrical and signaling systems on the Northeast Corridor that forces Amtrak to run at half the average speed the same the same train gets in Europe, expansion of light rail throughout the nation’s urban centers in such a way that reduces auto-driver sprawl and promotes the natural growth of walkable railway station-centered towns like the ones we are lucky enough to have in many parts of New Jersey, or even increased investment in efficient busing plans.
Perhaps this agenda is too ambitious for a “stimulus” bill and required a different venue. This is an argument that would make sense, but it needs to be made publicly and we need to be having at least preliminary discussions about a long term infrastructure improvement bill at the same time that the stimulus package is being debated. Without serious and expensive investment in infrastructure the country will decay.
If you look at a rail map of the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area from the 1920s or so you will see dozens of rail lines which have fallen into disrepair, or no longer exist at all except as scattered traces. Much of our former local rail system, and almost all long distance passenger rail, was allowed to degrade at the same time that the national highway system was being built up after World War II, and for all the decades since there has been a dismal lack of political support for halting and reversing this decline. The last few years have seen a modest reversal, including significant investment in New Jersey Transit, light rail in several small and medium size cities, such as Seattle, Denver, Honolulu and many others, and most recently funding for high speed rail in California.
We have also seen the negative effects that a complete emphasis on highways and automobiles has had on the development of America in recent decades, from the obvious and well known environmental damage to less obvious effects such as the destruction of localized communities in favor of vast tracts of homogenized strip malls, and even some measure of contribution to the obesity crisis. The highway system has of course served well and must be maintained into the future, but it is time for a radical shift in our future infrastructure investment priorities. I hope that as one of the Senators of the State of New Jersey you will make it one of your top priorities to fight for a transit investment agenda along the lines of what I have asked for in this letter-not just for New Jersey, but for each of the United States.