Chris Christie’s Super Bowl Fumble

Terrance Heath

With the first ever “Mass Transit Super Bowl” happening in his state, New Jersey governor Chris Christie had two jobs: Make the trains run on time, and make sure New Jersey benefited. What actually happened is a classic example of conservative failure.

“Jersey Sucks!”

Chris Christie was certainly proud to host the Super Bowl. On Thursday, Christie made his first public appearance to talk about the Super Bowl — at a Boys & Girls Club that received a $1.2 million makeover, care of the National Football League and corporate donors. New York City may have hosted Super Bowl Week, but Christie reminded everyone where the game itself would be played.

Things went downhill from there. Christie woke up to damning headlines on Saturday morning.

After digesting the headlines, Christie went to a Times Square Rally in New York City, where he joined NFL officials in symbolically “handing off” next year’s Super Bowl to Arizona.

Christie did not mention the scandals plaguing his administration during his remarks. He didn’t have to. The audience needed no reminders.

Finally, game day  arrived. Over 400,000 people were expected to travel to the region. Over 80,000 would probably go to the game. Organizers estimates that 10,000 to 12,000 would take the trains, and 40,000 to 50,000 would travel by bus. Parking was limited, and expensive.

Organizers encouraged fans to use the mass transit system. Fans listened. New Jersey Transit officials set a new ridership record, as 28,000 Super Bowl attendees took the train. A mass transit meltdown ensued.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mUf0zjWYIo

Thousands were stuck at Secaucus Junction. Fans waited for hours to get through security, and for trains to take them on what’s usually a 30 minute ride. Some passed the time cheering for their favorite teams. Those cheers eventually became anti-Jersey chants, of which “Jersey sucks!” was the most popular.

There were several reports of people collapsing in the overcrowded and overheated station at Secaucus Junction.

Game Over

More than two hours after the Super Bowl ended, hundreds of fans were still waiting to get into MetLife Stadium, after waiting hours just to get there. Meanwhile, thousands inside the stadium were waiting to leave.

Congestion on the train platform got so bad that the public address announcer asked fans to remain in the stadium.

The game ended around 9:55 p.m. By 11:20 p.m. only about 13,000 people had been transported from the stadium complex.

Fans were still waiting to get out of the stadium after 12:30 a.m.

NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman gave reporters a “post-game analysis” on Monday. “The sheer number that wanted to go at specific times just overwhelmed the ability to take them,” Grubman said.

Financial Flop

Chris Christie probably congratulated himself on bringing the Super Bowl to New Jersey. After all, hadn’t his efforts brought considerable revenue into the state? Not exactly.

Christie’s Super Bowl was a financial flop. The state probably won’t see much of the $550 million the game was supposed to inject into the region. Measures required by the NFL blocked local business from profiting by  shuttling fans to the game. Towns and cities in the region, weren’t even allowed to call their Super Bowl parties “Super Bowl” parties, because of threats from NFL lawyers.

New Jersey citizens will still pay the price for the whole shebang, without ever seeing any of the promised benefits.

According to the deal Christie negotiated, the NFL paid nothing for security. The 700 state troopers who patrolled the game, the choppers that circled overhead, the National Guard, and local police were all on New Jersey’s dime.
The NFL bars states from collecting sales taxes on ticket sales. parking, luxury box sales, etc., and keeps all the revenue. So, there were no tax benefits to offset the costs to New Jersey.
The NFL’s plan funneled tourists to New York, where the bulk of available hotel rooms and shuttles were located.

Why Chris Christie Couldn’t Make Trains Run On Time

The transit problems at New Jersey’s Super Bowl didn’t start on Sunday. They began in 2010, when New Jersey governor Chris Christie killed the largest public transit project in the country, even though work had already begun and $3 billion in federal financing had been arranged. Had it been built, it would almost certainly have made a difference on Super Bowl Sunday.

In 2009, New Jersey was in line to receive more than $8 billion in federal stimulus funding for highway, mass transit, and energy efficiency projects. More than half was earmarked for the construction of the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) Tunnel, designed to replace the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) Tunnels built in 1909. The project would have doubled the capacity of the PATH tunnels.

The ARC Tunnel would have also increased public safety. Age and disrepair left the PATH tunnels vulnerable to terrorist attacks — like the failed 2006 plot to bomb a PATH train under the Hudson River. A mass transit attack was the top Super Bowl security concern. But it wasn’t terrorism that played havoc with the “Mass Transit Super Bowl.” It was conservatism.

Warned of the dangers, Chris Christie had a decision to make. He could either do the right thing for New Jersey, or he could burnish his conservative credentials, in service of his political ambition. Having run on a promise not to raise New Jersey’s rock-bottom gas tax, Christie could tout his “conservatives principles” to his advantage, even if commuters still needed better, safer tunnels.

Christie chose the latter. In October of 2010, Christie indicated he would cancel the ARC Tunnel project. Christie claimed that New Jersey couldn’t afford it. Unmoved by arguments about reducing congestion, and Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood’s $358 million offer to help cover New Jersey’s costs, Christie formally killed the ARC Tunnel.

New Jersey citizens ended up paying anyway. The cancellation meant the state forfeited federal dollars. Christie refused to pay, and went to court instead. A Federal Transit Administration ruling rejected the state’s arguments. A settlement left New Jersey on the hook for $95 million. Litigation with property owners who had their land taken ended up costing New Jersey Transit $18.5 million, and another $5.6 million to settle with a design firm that design work for tunnels that would never be built. Commuters paid the price with higher fares.

In 2012, a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report revealed that Christie’s claims about the cost of the ARC Tunnel were either dishonest or wildly inaccurate:

  • Christie claimed that New Jersey would end up paying 70 percent of the cost of building the tunnels. The GAO found that the state share would be just 14.4 percent.
  • Christie cited cost overruns that would put the final price tag at $14 billion. According to the GAO, state transportation officials said the cost wouldn’t exceed $10 billion.

The GAO report also revealed the economic cost of Christie’s choice.

  • Analysts predicted the project would raise New Jersey property values by $18 billion.
  • The increase in property values would allow $50 billion in new wages to return to New Jersey, from New York City.
  • The project would also have given the region economic, environmental, and mobility benefits that are harder to quantify, but no less real.

By then, things had already turned out the way Christie intended. His decision to won him the admiration of conservatives who were already attacking mass transit. But in the end it may profit him nothing. Scandal has pushed Christie out of “front runner” status for a GOP White House bid in 2016, and may push him out of the governor’s mansion.

When a state hosts an event like the Super Bowl, government has at least two jobs: make sure things runs smoothly, and that the state benefits. What happened at New Jersey’s Super Bowl again proves the first rule of conservative failure: Conservatives don’t believe government doesn’t work, they believe it shouldn’t work, and once in power they make damn sure it can’t work.

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