Biggest public-works project in nation derails
The nation’s biggest public-works project, a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, was canceled Wednesday when the governor of New Jersey announced that his state didn’t have the money to pay its share of the almost $9-billion cost.
Gov. Christopher Christie, a Republican, who came into office last year promising fiscal restraint, said New Jersey couldn’t afford the construction overruns. He previously rejected any gasoline tax increase to pay for the project.
“In the end, my decision does not change,” Christie said at a news conference. “I cannot place upon the citizens of New Jersey an open-ended letter of credit, and that’s what this project represents.”
New Jersey and New York are connected by a 100-year-old, two-track rail tunnel that reached capacity several years ago and has jammed Penn Station with 500,000 trips every day.In addition to New Jersey commuters, the old tunnel is used by freight and Amtrak traffic. The new tunnel, which has been almost two decades in the planning, was designed to break the bottleneck.
Christie, who has become a celebrity within the GOP for his pugnacious style and fiscal conservatism, has argued repeatedly that New Jersey couldn’t afford to pay for the construction overruns.
The state’s share of the project was estimated at more $2.7 billion. The federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are each contributing $3 billion.
Construction on the tunnel began last year. But the project has been in the works for decades. It is designed to double the capacity for NJ Transit commuter and Amtrak trains between New York and New Jersey.
Officials estimated it would provide 6,000 construction jobs immediately and as many as 40,000 jobs after its completion in 2018.
Christie ordered a cost review in September, suspending new work on the tunnel while the estimate was completed. He questioned the project about two weeks ago but backed off at the request of federal officials.
For the last few months, local and federal officials have been pressing Christie to back the project. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) blasted the governor’s decision.
“The federal government, at my urging, presented Gov. Christie with a number of financing options that would limit and even eliminate New Jersey’s responsibility to pay for cost overruns on the ARC Tunnel,” Lautenberg’s statement said. “The federal government demonstrated its strong commitment to building this tunnel, but it was clear from the beginning that Gov. Christie planned to kill this project no matter what.”
Also critical was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“I am extremely disappointed in Governor Christie’s decision to abandon the ARC tunnel project, which is a devastating blow to thousands of workers, millions of commuters and the state’s economic future,” he said in a statement.
“The governor’s decision to stop work on this project means commuters – who would have saved 45 minutes each day thanks to the ARC tunnel – will instead see no end to traffic congestion and ever-longer wait times on train platforms,” LaHood said.
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