EDITORIAL: An angry huff

Bill Wilson / June 10, 2011

I just do not want the argument to escalate to the point where riot gear is necessary. You never know when Legos will start to fly.

When my 5-year-old son engages with my 2-year-old daughter . . . wait, let me rephrase. When my 2-year-old daughter intrudes the space of my 5-year-old son, two things usually happen. First, verbal fisticuffs are thrown. Then Aidan springs up and says, “That’s it. I can’t play with you anymore.” He then leaves Ainsley to her own devices. I appreciate his keeping it relatively civil. After all, there are innocent civilians involved here, mainly his 8-month-old brother. A stray strike would produce quite a bit of tear shed.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knocked over the building blocks of the Trans-Hudson tunnel project months ago, and now U.S. DOT Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is done playing around. In early May, Christie was notified to repay $271 million that was spent on the canceled rail excursion that was supposed to beef up the transit lines between New York and New Jersey. However, LaHood used the order to scold Christie as if he were a mingling toddler.

“The law is clear on this matter,” the U.S. DOT chief wrote. “After the initial contract was entered into and later expanded at Governor Christie’s request, the state of New Jersey broke the terms.”

LaHood stopped short of name-calling on the official letterhead, but clearly wanted to sting some feelings. “The governor’s unfortunate decision will affect the commuters in New Jersey and the entire Northeast region for generations,” he stated.

Christie seems to be too busy playing in his sandbox to pay much attention to big brother. In response to LaHood’s note, he said he did not find it shocking that the federal government was asking for its money back. The U.S. DOT, however, has not released New Jersey from its punishment corner. A couple of weeks after the LaHood demand, federal officials turned a blind eye to the funding needs of Christie’s own Portal Bridge project. According to the Wall Street Journal, those close to the matter said the aging span did not receive money due to Christie’s recent history in handling U.S. DOT-backed projects.

“We learned something in New Jersey,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) told the Wall Street Journal. “We learned that if you reject federal money, you gain nothing. And you pay a heck of a price for it.”

Upon hearing the news of the Portal Bridge funding demise, I could not help but think about the reports released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) accusing the Obama administration of essentially playing favorites when it came time to select winners of TIGER grants. According to the GAO, the U.S. DOT and the Federal Railroad Administration applied their criteria during the first round of the project process, but the documented rationales were typically so vague that GAO could not verify whether the criteria were applied in the final project selection.

What Christie did with the Trans-Hudson tunnel project was ill-advised and, yes, a bit juvenile. The U.S. DOT’s response was simply selfish. The agency should look out for the best interests of the American people when selecting projects for funding. If the Portal Bridge was considered a high-maintenance priority, then New Jersey should have received official assistance. Instead, it received just more nasty official words. Innocent civilians are involved here, none of which resemble Christie and an increasing number that do not stand behind his actions, and the U.S. DOT would rather put them at risk to prove a point than simply do the right thing. I was expecting LaHood’s people to act more like adults. Instead, this was their way of saying, “That’s it. I can’t play with you anymore.”

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