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Editorial: 'Summer of hell' for commuters, but how 'bout that ferry?

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When it comes to commuting, consider this.

• New Jersey commuters have been promised a “summer of hell” as overdue improvements are made at New York Penn Station;

• The Gateway rail tunnel planned to improve access to the infrastructure-challenged station is now estimated to cost $13 billion (up from $7.7 billion, and money that no one apparently has);

• And, of course, all of this was preceded in 2010 by Gov. Chris Christie canceling the $8.7 million ARC tunnel under the Hudson River.

So, with all that, you might be surprised to learn that the state Department of Transportation, using Port Authority of New York and New Jersey funds, has been heavily subsidizing high-speed ferry service for a handful of passengers from Atlantic Highlands to Jersey City and Hoboken.

Port Authority Chairman John Degnan was surprised to hear that the Seastreak ferry has been receiving approximately $1.8 million a year since 2014. He said he learned about the subsidy only when The New York Times reported it July 6.

To his credit, Degnan immediately suspended the payments and ordered a review by the agency’s inspector general. And, to be fair, the $5.4 million Seastreak has received over three years is but a tiny drop in the tunnel compared to the region’s transportation needs.

But still, this stinks.

As the Times reported, the subsidy to Seastreak amounts to approximately $7,200 a day in addition to the $12 per trip paid by passengers. Considering average ridership, that comes out to a subsidy of $94 for every round-trip passenger. At that price, as another ferry operator told the paper, “They could have sent everyone in a cab.”

The subsidized ferry service should be especially maddening to NJ Transit passengers, who have seen state subsidies for the beat-up trains and buses they use cut by a whopping 90 percent under Christie.

The ferry subsidy came from a $1.8 billion pot of money that the Port Authority had planned to use for the ARC project. Christie demanded that the money be used instead for road and bridge repairs, and a large chunk of it is paying for ongoing work on the Pulaski Skyway between Jersey City and Newark. A state DOT spokesman gamely tried to spin the ferry subsidy as a way to ease congestion on that road during construction — but there’s no indication that Seastreak’s passengers are riding the ferry because of work on the Pulaski Skyway.

So, what we are left with is a hefty per-person subsidy for people lucky enough to live in or near Atlantic Highlands.

No, it’s not quite like shaking down a major airline to provide air service to your resort home. (Google “David Samson” and “house arrest” for that one.)

But it is enough to make you seasick.

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