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New Jersey Traffic Retribution Scandal Tough for Houstonians to Understand

Imagine fighting for your political life over this.
Imagine fighting for your political life over this.
Photo by TexasDarkHorse via Flickr

If you've never been to the northeast, particularly if you've never driven on their highways, it is probably tough for you to understand the scandal facing Governor Chris Christie and his staff right now in New Jersey. How could a pair of lane closures be that significant of a problem that it would represent a form of political retribution?

A little background first. Christie, the popular and bombastic Republican governor of largely Democratic New Jersey, is widely considered to be a possible GOP candidate for President in the next election. He's ruffled feathers on both sides of the political aisle, but the people of the Garden State seem to love him. Most importantly, it was thought he was a guy who didn't really do political scandal. He might disagree, but he'd do so publicly.

But, when the Associated Press dug up e-mails sent by a top Christie aide suggesting as payback for the mayor of Fort Lee not backing Christie in the election, a couple lanes of the freeway should be shut down to increase traffic, that perception has rapidly changed. Now, on to the traffic problem.

Here in Houston, we have an abundance of highways and options for getting around traffic. For any given location, there are probably 10 different routes that will get us there. It's why traffic is almost never a problem for Astros and Rockets games because there are so many ways in and out of downtown.

Sure, traffic during rush hour is tough with so many people trying to either get into or leave business areas like downtown, the Galleria or the Medical Center. But, imagine if there was just one business center and only a single point of access to it. Consider what would happen if the entire population of Houston lived in the Woodlands and the only access road into downtown Houston was Interstate 45. That's the problem facing New Jersey.

With its proximity to New York City, there are thousands of people every day that must pass through a choked artery to get to the George Washington Bridge. To make matters more complicated, virtually every road in the area is part of the New Jersey Turnpike, which is a toll road -- every time I drive through that state, I am reminded how much it costs just to drive your car there.

A few years ago, I drove a car into Manhattan at 5 or 6 p.m. on a Friday evening through the Lincoln Tunnel. At the entrance of the tunnel, something like 50 lanes converged into about four (it was probably more like 12 down to six, but you get the idea). Just getting into the tunnel took probably 20 minutes. Everywhere at almost every time in and around New York City, it's the same. It's like the West Loop only angrier and making less sense.

So, the next time you are cursing our traffic and considering taking an alternate route, imagine that, in New Jersey, the closing of two lanes of traffic is so bad, it represents a scandal that could have widespread political ramifications for the governors office. Our traffic blows, but it's not normally scandal worthy.


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