There’s a distinct lack of imagination in certain reactions to the Hudson River Gateway Project in New York. Or perhaps between New York and New Jersey. For the claim is being made that not throwing taxpayer money at the idea is to kill said idea. Which is really rather odd, for the taxpayer isn’t the only person who can pay to build infrastructure. Indeed, there’s not all that much reason why it should ever be the taxpayer doing so. All government is, in this instance, is an intermediary between private capital and the project after all. Take money from private citizens through government to build a tunnel. Go ask private citizens to voluntarily pay for a tunnel. Why’s government the only method possible here?
From day one of Donald Trump’s presidency, his apologists insisted that Trump the builder would redeem Trump the racist xenophobe. Yet when presented with the need to push forward a long-overdue project to build additional rail capacity under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, Trump the builder is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he has instructed his minions to kill the Gateway project, reportedly to spite Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Back in 2010 it was then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who killed an earlier version known as the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) tunnel project. That move was clearly aimed to get Christie national headlines as a fiscal conservative while he geared up for his own presidential bid, which ironically collapsed because he tried to use a bridge for something other than moving people.
Back when Christie walked away, half a billion dollars had already been spent designing a tunnel that had been on the drawing board for 20 years.
What is it with these larger-than-life bully boys who feel entitled to consign generations of commuters to Third World mass transit at First World prices, over an ego trip?
That Congress has not decided to lift money from people in El Paso to pay for a tunnel to benefit those in NJ and NY does not mean, at all, that the people of NY and NJ cannot benefit from a new tunnel. We might even consider who built the first tunnel which now needs replacing and it wasn’t the taxpayers of the day, was it?
For years, the lack of trans-Hudson passenger rail capacity has cost the entire New York-New Jersey region billions of dollars in lost productivity.
Great, the problem being if the builders of the tunnel cannot capture for their own pockets some of that increased productivity. There really are things which are public goods and that do suffer from that problem. But the definition of a public good is something which is non-excludable and non-rivalrous. And we can most certainly exclude someone from a tunnel if they decide they’d prefer not to pay for it. A tunnel therefore isn’t a pure public good.
So, why not let the private sector build a tunnel? There are definite benefits – private sector, unsubsidised, contractors would not have to pay absurd union rates for example. It’s also not something which is unknown. The Channel Tunnel was built with private money. Sure, it then went bust but it was still built privately. Both Battersea Tube and near the entirety of Hong Kong’s network are paid for through the uplift in land values from having a subway stop nearby.
Do note what the insistence here is. A new tunnel will produce a considerable economic surplus. Obviously so, if it didn’t then there would be no point in building it. A reasonable argument becomes well, why don’t we ask those who will gain that economic benefit to pay for the economic benefit they’re going to get? We’ve deep and liquid capital markets which are able to move the expenses and paying for it around in time. What the heck, why not package up the rights of way, the right to build the tunnel, and sell it off? The people who buy will be incentivised to build the thing and thus we gain the productivity improvement without taxing El Paso to get it.
Actually, isn’t this the very thing which Trump has proposed as a method of building infrastructure? Meaning that far from cutting the project off at the knees he’s just made it more likely to happen?