New Jersey Governor Christopher J. Christie’s dumbfounding decision to cancel what is widely seen as the most important public works project in America should be a wake-up call for planners, politicians, and architects who care about salvaging the region’s future amid a climate of professed fiscal prudence and steadily shrinking public enterprise.
Christie’s October 7 move to halt construction of the ARC project—the $8.7 billion transit link between the New Jersey Meadowlands and Penn Station through two new single-track tunnels—shows how short-sighted political tactics threaten to sabotage decades of planning for the public good. While, at press time, the governor had given ARC a two-week reprieve, pending conversations with furious federal transportation officials, this month’s mind-bending scenario offers an urgent lesson for large-scale investments in the region’s fraying transit, energy, and ecological networks.
As we’ve how one hotheaded politician can pull the plug on a multi-agency effort with $600 million already spent and construction under way for more than a year. “The overriding question that future infrastructure planners will ask is how any projects of significant scope can be executed in America today if one individual can stop decades of carefully laid plans,” Sollohub writes. “Whatever the outcome, future planners and legislators will consider whether a governor with the least money on the table should have so much unilateral power.”
That question is particularly acute for the architects, planners, and engineers who are perhaps the only ones with their shirts truly on the line in the ARC project—among them Parsons Brinckerhoff, STV, and DMJM Harris/AECOM, not to mention the construction management team of Tishman, Parsons, and Arup—who bear the brunt of capricious maneuvers like Christie’s, which trade our collective future for a bogus agenda of tough-love retrenchment.