New Jersey to challenge feds over tunnel bill

December 1, 2010 4:25:54 PM PST
Gov. Chris Christie plans to challenge the $271 million bill the federal government says New Jersey owes after canceling a rail tunnel.

The administration is completing plans to retain a Washington law firm to try to stop the Federal Transit Administration from collecting money spent on engineering and construction for the $8.7 billion Hudson River tunnel, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said Wednesday. The unnamed firm has expertise in federal transit matters.

The decision was first reported Wednesday by the Asbury Park Press, which cited an administration source it did not name.

The source told the newspaper that the state plans to authorize New Jersey Transit to hire a law firm to file suit in federal court. The source said the state plans to argue that the federal government has not forced other states or local governments to pay back money when projects have been canceled.

On Oct. 27, Christie killed what was the nation's most expensive public works project because of potential cost overruns. The Republican governor said at the time the overages could total $2 billion to $5 billion or more. He said New Jersey didn't have the money for additional costs.

The federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had each committed $3 billion to the project. New Jersey's portion was $2.7 billion. The state and Port Authority were responsible for overruns.

The project to construct a second rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York - known as Access to the Region's Core, or ARC - was 15 years in the making when Christie pulled the plug. More than $600 million had been spent for engineering, construction and environmental studies.

The tunnel was intended to supplement a century-old two-track tunnel under the Hudson River that has been at capacity for years.

The new tunnel would have been able to handle an extra 25 NJ Transit commuter trains per hour during peak periods; without it, New Jersey is left with one tunnel that can handle 23 Amtrak and NJ Transit trains.

More than 625,000 people commute to Manhattan from New Jersey each work day, about 185,000 by rail.

Christie has since said he would consider contributing money to a cheaper alternative: extending New York's No. 7 subway line under the Hudson River to New Jersey.

The FTA sent New Jersey a bill on Nov. 24 payable within 30 days.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat who helped secure the federal funds for the tunnel, has been talking with federal transportation officials about reducing New Jersey's tab, said his spokesman, Caley Gray.

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