If New York’s hard infrastructure had feelings, former vice president Joe Biden would have gravely offended them on Friday afternoon, when he delivered a broadside against the state of the region’s, and the country’s, infrastructure during a speech in midtown Manhattan.
Taking note of the recent service problems at North America’s busiest train station (including, he noted, an actual stampede), he said New York’s Penn Station, "is barely hanging on by a thread."
The cross-Hudson tunnel that NJ Transit relies on to access Penn Station is on its “last leg,” he said.
New York’s airports and subways are, by Biden’s lights and pretty much everyone else’s, outmoded and overcrowded. Friday morning’s widespread MTA delays, which Biden apparently learned about while shaving, personally impacted him by tripping up the guy who does his advance.
Three years after Biden said LaGuardia Airport reminded him of a “third world” country, a statement that preceded Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s launch of an $8 billion renovation there, Biden told a room full of planners, bureaucrats, politicians and business people that the country’s infrastructure, like New York City’s, is a “national disgrace.”
The audience at the Regional Plan Association’s annual assembly was receptive, greeting his comments with rounds of laughter, particularly when he (twice) dinged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for halting construction on a new cross-Hudson tunnel to replace the more-than-century-old one that is now falling apart and causing occasional outages up and down the Northeast Corridor.
"The New Jersey governor, as my mother would say, god bless him in his infinite wisdom, shut the project down,” said Biden. “There’s still purgatory.”
The folks who sent the federal funding for the project back to D.C. were, said Biden, "stupid sons of guns.”
“Unless we build new tunnels and repair the old ones, we’re courting disaster,” he continued.
There is, in fact, a successor proposal to the one Christie shut down: Gateway, which had the full-throated backing of the Obama administration. Biden, on Friday, said it’s the most important infrastructure project on the books in America right now.
President Donald Trump, however, has proposed slashing the federal funding on which Gateway, and other regional transportation projects, were to rely. The president told the New York Times recently he’s still looking into the project’s merits.
With Gateway’s future now in question, Biden’s speech was clearly intended to be a rallying cry. He repeatedly mentioned the wealth and power of the people in the room: the real estate executives like Scott Rechler, the bankers like Howard Milstein, the politicians and agency leaders who, Biden said, must make their voices heard on the federal level.
“We need you now more than we’ve ever needed you before,” he said. “Just think of where you find yourselves now, how high the stakes are.”
A few weeks back, a NJ Transit derailment on Amtrak’s tracks beneath Penn Station caused widespread delays and cancellations along the nation’s busiest rail corridor. Eight of the 21 tracks beneath Penn Station were out of service.
Biden said incidents like those are just "blips."
“What do we think will happen when the next incident impacts all 21 sets of tracks in Penn Station, not just eight?” Biden asked. “What about if we lose a tunnel?”