This is always a tricky subject, so I’ll tread lightly here because I think each and every one of us was profoundly impacted by the 9/11 attacks. Roughly 700 New Jerseyans lost their lives. And the way to honor those deaths has produced some wildly divergent views over what to do with the site.
Right after the attacks, there were calls to rebuild immediately. Many politicians noted that we “need to show the terrorists they didn’t win” ( actually no we don’t…that is precisely the thinking that got us bogged down in Iraq ). Apparently, the response was to build the hemisphere”s tallest building. And after several years of delays, the Freedom Tower has begun to rise at the pit. But here is the thing, the climate has changed. The financial collapse of 2008 drastically altered the market for hundreds of thousands of square feet of speculative office space. In fact, the Freedom Tower is no longer called that ridiculous name. It was quietly changed to “One World Trade.” After all, who would want to work in something called the Freedom Tower?? Probably not anyone who lived through that day.
So, it was with even further skepticism that some viewed the tentative deal between developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to build another two gigantic towers full of unrented office space. Oh yeah, and here is the part that makes people nuts – they will be financed with public money. $1.2 billion of which will come from the PA which collects fares and tolls from New Jerseyans throughout the region. Hmmm. Doesn’t sound like the best use of public money? That is probably because it’s not.
Full disclosure: ( since I am in the habit of making these lately ) I live near the sight. So whatever is built will alter my window views. On the other hand, further delaying the current plan which is essentially what I am advocating here will actually hurt my investment…so in essence i am making a case for something that is not in my best interest.
Phew. glad that is outta the way. So, now let’s ask the fundamental question as to why any of you should care. And that brings me to Assemblyman Al Countinho who chairs Commerce and Economic Development. He has been pushing for the Bayonne Bridge project to became a priority for the bi-state agency. And he is concerned that all the emphasis on the WTC has forced the PA into a state of paralysis everywhere else.
Here is a summary of the issue: In 2015 the Panama Canal will be widened to allow the larger ships to come through from Asia and make deliveries on East Coast ports. The 78-year old Bayonne bridge is too low to accommodate them at Port Newark. What will happen? Well those ships will have to go elsewhere. That will have a ripple effect on the local economy. Jobs could be lost or certainly not added to New Jersey at a time when they are needed. It takes a long time to raise or replace a bridge, and it needs to get done. Coutinho worries that the Port Authority has neglected this Jersey-based project, “forgotten its role,” and instead has gotten too caught up with being a real estate development agency. The man has a point. The vortex of the WTC site has people worried that the PA took it’s eye off the ball. Virginia and Halifax are apparently already advertising to the shipping companies that New Jersey has a problem and they would be happy to fill the void.
Coutinho says he plans to hold hearings in the Fall. According to the Port Authority a $10 million planning analysis is underway to determine “how best to address the navigational issues posed by the larger ships.” However critics say the time to study is over, and without action soon New Jersey will literally miss the boat.