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Economics politics

Jerry, the Jones Act, and the Fantasy Tunnel

Image by Stefan Keller

For over 30 years, Jerrold Nadler has wanted to build a tunnel: the Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel.  As he enters the twilight of his career, I imagine he views this as the cherry on top of his legacy.  

Jerry has shown he cares about things like immigrants rights and abortion right. These are good things.  But they are expected in our district.  True caring is putting your constituents’ interests first, even when they diverge from your self-interests (and those of your big railway contributors).  The tunnel project makes abundantly clear whose interests Nadler prioritizes.

Jerry wants the rail tunnel so freight will go by rail rather than truck.  This will reduce pollution and highway congestion. Worthy goals — in isolation.  When you start to look closer, however, the case begins to unravel. While not as horrible as Robert Moses’s Lomax, the tunnel would tear up Maspeth Queens.  Opposition from residents caused the Bloomberg administration to drop support.

Then there’s the budget. The tunnel is estimated to cost at least $10 billion. This is $10 billion we didn’t have before Covid.  It is unlikely to magically materialize now.  The project is stuck behind a number of higher priority projects whose financing is far from guaranteed.  Yet over the year, Jerry continues to budget money for tunnel studies.  In 2005, he appropriated $100 million despite the Port Authority neither knowing or asking for the money.  The latest was $70 million in 2017.  Do we really have hundreds of millions to waste on something so speculative? Yet, he continues to push — most recently in the Democratic primary debate in June.

The worst part is there’s a much better solution: repeal the Jones Act.  What’s the Jones Act? It’s a piece of shipping legislation that makes domestic shippers rely on the domestic shipping cartel.  This makes shipping prohibitively expensive. In Europe 40% of cargo goes by ship.  In the US just 2%.  The Jones Act pummels not only the environment, but the economy and jobs, Puerto Rico and Hawaii — all to benefit a small coterie of shippers and unions.  There are few more blatant examples of corporate cronyism. Jerry served on the House Transportation Committee. He knows what the Jones Act is and I have discussed it with him. Repealing the Jones Act is the perfect and very obvious solution to the truck congestion problem.  I’m sure Jerry’s smart enough to realize this, so his failure to suggest it leads me to an unfortunate conclusion: he’s more interested in a tunnel with his name on it than serving the public interest.

As for me, instead of the legacy of a $10 billion vanity project, I‘d be happy with a plaque saying I saved the taxpayer $10 billion. Ok in truth I’d prefer a few more plaques on how I got rid of the Jones Act, etc — but $10 billion is a good place to start.  

Related:

10 Fun Jones Act Facts!

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