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I’ll begin my last column with a confession: It took me four tries and two years to pass my driver’s test. As I watched my friends get their licenses, I got increasingly worried — would I never pass? Thanks to a dose of determination and a deeply patient driving instructor, I finally passed on Jan. 10, 2014 — coincidentally, my younger brother’s 17th birthday was Jan. 11, 2014, and I couldn’t let him pass before I did. While the process didn’t make me feel great, it now turns out I was in good company. A Federal Highway Administration study revealed that only 8.5 million people 19 and younger had their licenses — the lowest number in half a century.
A century ago, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued an order to the states of New York and New Jersey that would prove enormously consequential. It mandated that the two states, in order to deal with disputes over trans-Hudson shipping, create a public authority that would subordinate each states’ needs to the public interest. The child of a Progressive Era mission to reduce public corruption and increase government efficiency, the Port of New York Authority came to be in 1921, and later changed its name to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Responsible for managing much of the region’s transportation needs, it oversees the Port Authority Bus Terminal, several bridges, the PATH train, John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International Airports, among other critical transit facilities.
In 2005, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), then-Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.) and then-Gov. Richard Codey (D-N.J.) attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. The station, which would serve trains along the Newark-WTC and Hoboken-WTC PATH lines, was to be finished in 2009 and would cost $2.2 billion, mostly funded by $1.7 billion in Federal Transit Administration money. The station opened this month and cost almost $4 billion. It is the most expensive train station in world history. It is the 18th-busiest subway stop in Manhattan.
If you were planning on taking a train home for spring break, you may need to make other plans. On March 13 — one day after Rutgers’ spring break begins — a cooling-off period will end, and NJ Transit workers will have the option to strike. Make no mistake: This would be absolutely devastating to the economy of the New York metro area — hundreds of thousands of workers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania would be unable to get to their jobs. But how did we get here, and what can we do?
Well, the inevitable finally happened. After an embarrassing showing in New Hampshire, our absentee governor has ended his presidential campaign. But his work is far from over: From pensions, to Atlantic City to casino legislation, N.J. politics hasn’t been boring in his absence. But one issue looms large, at least in my mind — the gas tax.
Unbeknownst to many, students, commuters and others who ride trains in New Jersey, the state faced a looming disaster late last year. In October, an NJ Transit spokesperson warned that without an extension of a federal train safety deadline, the agency would no longer be able to run trains. This would be paralyzing. In 2014, New Jersey residents made 85 million train trips, with an average daily ridership of 295,173. NJ Transit wasn’t alone, either. MTA President Thomas Prendergast warned that it would have to shut down Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, and PATH general manager Michael Marino noted that PATH trains would face the same scenario. A shutdown would mean an unprecedented economic collapse across the region. Fortunately, however, Congress passed the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, extending the deadline to the end of 2018 at the earliest. New Jersey trains will continue to run for the time being.