I'll Take Your Hypocrisy If You Build Me a Tunnel

IOWA CITY, IA - JUNE 12:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to potential voters during a campaign event on June 12, 2
IOWA CITY, IA - JUNE 12: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to potential voters during a campaign event on June 12, 2015 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Christie is expected to announce soon that he will seek the Republican nomination for president. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says as president he'd move aggressively on Amtrak's long delayed Hudson River rail tunnel project -- yes, the same tunnel project he killed as governor five years ago. While cynics (note: I'm a cynic) question motives here and wonder just how much hypocrisy we'll have to endure in this presidential election, I'll take what I can get.

The case for building this tunnel is a no-brainer today and was a no-brainer when it was first proposed. Studies going back more than 20 years tell us that time isn't on our side as these tunnels deteriorate. The current tunnels under the Hudson going into New York City are over 100 years old and in sad shape: capacity is near 100 percent, delays are on the rise and ridership projections for Amtrak and NJ Transit are on a steady upward trajectory.

Super Storm Sandy sealed the deal when it flooded the tubes under the Hudson. But here's the catch: to perform critically needed repairs (yes, tunnels built before World War I need to be repaired,) traffic must be halted, leaving commuters with years of severe delays.

Now, Gov. Christie promises action if voters will elect him president. Never mind that just nine months ago, Gov. Christie said he had "no second thoughts" about canceling the project and accused critics of being "liberals who want bigger programs."

Sometimes running for office can clear your vision, and now the governor is almost lecturing us on how the tunnel needs to be built. While this is a positive development in advancing the tunnel project, I do wonder if I'll wake up one morning to reports that FIFA is offering lectures on ethics.

Gov. Christie's comments raise a broader and more fundamental question: will our next president be prepared to reverse decades of neglect and underinvestment in our nation's transportation system and infrastructure? And will voters demand that candidates offer a long-term funding plan -- not just empty speeches -- to rebuild and modernize a transportation system that is literally falling apart. In other words, will investing in transportation get prime time in this presidential election?

The fact is the Hudson River tunnel project is one of many that will only be completed if politicians in both parties get serious about finding the resources to pay for them. You see, tunnels do fail, bridges do fall down, and transit and rail systems do fall apart. And when you force your aviation system to use decades-old technology and let your ports get long in the tooth from neglect, American competitiveness suffers, and millions of good private and public sector jobs get idled.

Twenty-two candidates have now entered the presidential contest. It's time we hold them accountable and refuse to accept flimsy rhetoric about something as fundamental as our passenger and freight mobility. If candidates are serious about connecting with the everyday struggles of voters, they need to be serious about having a plan that fixes our transportation mess -- one that transcends party politics and tells the truth about the true cost of continued inaction.

I will gladly take a heaping dose of hypocrisy during this presidential election cycle if, in return, the nation starts dealing with a transportation infrastructure crisis that is fast becoming a national economic calamity.