Chris Christie’s excuse for killing a cross-Hudson tunnel turns out to be exactly as political as it looked
In 2010, a year after work on the project began, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects the region has seen in decades, citing cost overruns. Known as ARC, or Access to the Region's Core, it would have created a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, easing the substantial congestion that now plagues cross-Hudson trains, commuter and otherwise. But a new federal report says Christie was dissembling.
The New York Times has an early copy of the report, for which "investigators spent a year examining official planning studies and estimates for the project and interviewing people associated with it." The nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office is planning to release it to the public later this week.
Christie had said, upon cancellation of the project, that his ARC steering committee had told him the project would cost at least $11 billion and perhaps more than $14 billion. That wasn't true:
The report, however, found that the estimates had not changed since August 2008, 17 months before Mr. Christie took office. New Jersey Transit and federal officials had agreed on a baseline cost of $8.7 billion, which was the figure cited in news reports, but they had also agreed, first in 2008 and then a month before Mr. Christie canceled the project, that costs would range from $9.5 billion to $12.4 billion.
Mr. Christie further explained his decision by saying that the financing agreement with the federal government required him to declare that New Jersey would pay any costs above the $8.7 billion. That is the standard procedure for full-financing agreements, but the report found that there was no agreement when Mr. Christie canceled the project, and that the federal government, which was already paying 51 percent of the costs, had offered to help with any cost overruns, pledging additional money, low-interest railroad loans and public-private financing.
The governor also misrepresented New Jersey's share of the project's cost: "[H]e said the state would pay 70 percent of the project; the report found that New Jersey was paying 14.4 percent."
$4 billion that New Jersey is not spending on ARC has since been funneled into its highway trust fund, apparently so that Christie could keep his campaign promise to not raise the state's gas tax.
All of which would seem to point to a decision that was patently political.
Right before Christie killed ARC, Eliot Brown described for Capital what was about to be lost:
Named "Access to the Region's Core," or A.R.C., the project would build a new tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New York City and northern New Jersey, allowing 80,000 new riders to gush into Manhattan every day to work in its offices. Lots of new train service to north Jersey suburbs would offer a one-seat ride to Manhattan-bound commuters in places like Passaic, Paterson, North Hackensack and Teterboro, increasing property values in these towns by a total of $18 billion, according to a study by the Regional Plan Association. New planned office towers in Manhattan, like the massive new office building Steve Roth's Vornado Realty Trust wants to build right next to Penn Station, and buildings planned for a platform above the West Side Railyards, would be injected with adrenaline in a sagging economy. Commuters would get a less crowded ride, and ever-growing Amtrak could fit more trains (for a few years) into at-capacity Penn Station. All at a cost of about $8.7 billion.