Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Tappan Zee Bridge replacement is not about jobs

We all have needs, and many of the needs can be satisfied in different ways. For example, everyone needs a certain amount of protein in their diet, and you can get it from beef, chicken, beans or nuts. You could get your protein from barbecued elephant stakes, but most people would agree that it's a wasteful and environmentally destructive way of satisfying that basic need. It's the same with jobs.

Many of the most fervent arguments for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project, like this op-ed by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee and another one by Rockland Business Association President Al Samuels, have focused on "jobs." Jaffee writes,
In addition to a new bridge, our community cannot afford to wait for new jobs. At a time when the state unemployment rate is 8 percent, we cannot waste any opportunity to spur economic growth. Building a new Tappan Zee Bridge is estimated to create up to 150,000 new jobs, a huge boost for our region and state. And by speeding up the process and finally getting a quick date for construction, our community will have these jobs now, when we need them most.
Well, yes, Assemblywoman, if an "opportunity to spur economic growth" is a shitty one, we certainly can waste it, and we should. Not all employment programs are created equal. There are many ways to create jobs, including monetary policy, unemployment insurance and infrastructure spending. You could create jobs by rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge, but it's a wasteful and environmentally destructive way of satisfying that basic economic need.

On a basic level, you could pay people to dig holes and fill them up for years, and stimulate the economy that way, but some forms of stimulus are better and others are worse. For years, Smart Growth America has been highlighting data showing that government spending on mass transit projects creates more and better jobs per dollar than road projects.

If you want to create jobs in the Lower Hudson Valley, why not spend it rebuilding the old rail infrastructure? I bet that five billion dollars would be enough to rebuild the tracks on every train line that ever existed in Orange, Bergen and Rockland Counties, double-track them, lower the floor on the West Shore Line, and restore passenger service on all of them. Any leftover money could be spent rebuilding the Putnam Line and NYW&B in Westchester, or digging the Cross-Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel. Tons of good jobs there. No need to rebuild a bridge that has filled the area with sprawl and will only generate more sprawl.

2 comments:

Douglas A. Willinger said...

"Any leftover money could be spent rebuilding the Putnam Line and NYW&B in Westchester, "

I lived across the street from the former Quaker Ridge Station for many years; it was torn out during the early 1940s for a misguided scrap drive and had been closed in 1937. It was economically hurt by the great Depression, and if you look at the books, was a prime example IMHO of why railroads should not be subjected to property taxes. Has anyone done a study on its reconstruction? It should be at least extended past the Dyre Avene Station, into Mt Vernon to connect with the New Haven line.

Cap'n Transit said...

Good point, Doug. Thanks!