Christie to weigh tunnel decision through weekend

October 22, 2010 4:52:38 PM PDT
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will take at least the weekend to decide whether to continue the biggest public works project under way in America: a new rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York City.

The governor will receive recommendations from key federal and state transportation officials Friday and consider them through the weekend, Christie communications director Maria Comella told The Associated Press. Christie may also consult with others before making a decision.

"We'll make the decision when the decision needs to be made in the best interests of the people and the taxpayers of the state and with no other interests at stake," Christie said after a campaign appearance with Republican congressional candidate Jon Runyan in Mount Laurel.

The tunnel is designed to supplement a century-old two-track tunnel and would double train capacity between New York and its populous New Jersey suburbs. It also would provide 6,000 construction jobs immediately and up to 40,000 jobs after its completion in 2018, officials estimate. Construction began last year.

Christie halted work on the project six weeks ago while transportation officials reviewed its costs, and earlier this month he scrapped the project, saying New Jersey is broke and can't afford the cost overruns. But, he agreed to give it a two-week reprieve after meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Oct. 8. The two weeks ends Friday.

LaHood said earlier this week that he would present options for keeping the tunnel project on track to Christie on Friday. No meetings between Christie and LaHood have been scheduled.

Three government officials have told The Associated Press the estimated cost of the tunnel is $9.77 billion, or $4 billion less than the worst-case estimate Christie cited when he killed the project. The officials have direct knowledge of the tunnel but are not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Christie said the project was running $2 billion to $5 billion over budget, but the cost estimate provided by the officials is only about $1 billion over budget.

The project is on target financially so far.

On Friday, LaHood said in a statement that the $9.77 billion figure was the "low-range cost of the project" and added that the "mid-range estimate is $10.99 billion and the high-end range is $12.708 billion."

"For complex projects, we do a range of estimates in the interests of accuracy," LaHood said. "However, DOT is committed to working together through the life of the project to keep costs down to the lowest estimate."

The federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are each contributing $3 billion. New Jersey's share is $2.7 billion plus overruns.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who helped secure the federal funding, appeared Friday at Newark's rail station to criticize Christie for the latest delay.

"I think the governor maybe is saying, 'Look, I don't want the project but maybe if I act recalcitrant enough, if I'm stubborn enough, if I'm tough enough, maybe we can just get them to throw in more money,"' Lautenberg said at Penn Station. "The problem is they won't throw it in, they'll throw it away. There are lots of other states just waiting to get their hands on that money."