Christie reconsiders canceling tunnel project

October 8, 2010 3:18:13 PM PDT
Gov. Chris Christie pulled back Friday on his decision to cancel plans for a nearly $9 billion rail tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan, agreeing after meeting with the U.S. transporation secretary to hear other options for one of the nation's largest public works projects.

"Maybe, maybe, we've just seen the light at the end of the tunnel," said Senator Frank Lautenberg, (D) New Jersey.

Critics of New Jersey's governor are hoping he'll use the next couple of weeks to change his mind about the multi-billion dollar project to construct a commuter train tunnel between New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan.

Thursday Governor Chris Christie defended his decision to stop the massive project dead in his tracks.

"I'm not going to put the taxpayers of our state, on the hook, for costs that are well in excess of what this was originally projected to be," Governor Christie said on Thursday.

Then came Ray LaHood, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, in an urgent meeting in Trenton Friday with Governor Christie.

After the meeting LaHood said they had, "A good discussion" during which he presented "a number of options".

Those options include using a small working group in which federal officials and people like Jim Weinstein, the executive director of New Jersey Transit, would report back to the governor in two weeks.

"Why we couldn't have talked five weeks ago, or six weeks ago, I don't understand. Nevertheless, I think the governor now realizes the terrible mistake in declaring the ballgame over," Sen. Lautenberg said.

At stake in the multi-billion dollar project is a massive amount of funding that New Jersey would have to forfeit.

Both the federal government and the Port Authority were kicking in $3 billion each.

Governor Christie has argued cost overruns would end up overshadowing that funding.

Meanwhile, transportation advocates say if Governor Christie doesn't change his mind, it's a blunder that will go down in history.

"New Jersey residents cannot afford to throw away over six billion dollars, 40,000 jobs, and 20 years worth of planning," said Zoe Baldwin, of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Christie's spokeswoman, Maria Comella, said that the wind-down on the project wind down would continue, and the governor reiterated that he believed the project remained financially unviable.

"The fact that the ARC project is not financially viable and is expected to dramatically exceed its current budget remains unchanged," Christie said in a statement. He added, though, that LaHood "presented several options to potentially salvage a trans-Hudson tunnel project."

More than a half-billion dollars has been spent on the tunnel, and construction began last year. It was expected to double train traffic in and out of New York City during peak commute times once completed in 2018.

But over the years, cost projections also have nearly doubled.

It started at $5 billion in 2005 and grew to $8.7 billion by 2008. In recent months, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff has made public statements that put the price tag at $9 billion to $10 billion. Christie had said Thursday that his advisers put the costs at $11 billion to $14 billion.

A month ago, the Republican governor ordered a 30-day halt to all work on the tunnel over concerns that it would go over budget.

On Thursday, he directed state transportation officials to explore other approaches to modernize and expand rail capacity into New York.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)