When news broke over the weekend that New Jersey was suspended work on the ARC tunnel for 30 days to review, New Jersey Transit’s Executive Director James Weinstein appeared as the public face of the shutdown. Yet, when a state opts to freeze its part of an $8.7-billion megaproject, someone else is clearly pulling the strings. Yesterday, Gov. Chris Christie admitted his role in the affair, and his comments have many fearing for the future of the project.
At a press conference this week, Christie claim to voice his conditional support for the tunnel, but his comments were clearly aimed at the immediate future of the ARC tunnel. “If I can’t pay for it, then we’ll have to consider other options,” he said, before levying a charge of politicking at the Corzine Administration. “It went from $5 billion to $8.7 billion in what was clearly a rush by the Corzine administration to have gold shovels and put them the ground and try to get Corzine re-elected. That obviously was less than successful, and I’m concerned that their evaluations of price of this project was as successful as his re-election campaign was.”
As ARC supporters rushed to defend the project, noting that it was in the planning stages years before Jon Corzine was New Jersey governor, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign dug up a letter from Gov. Christie. Written in April of 2010 and addressed to US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Christie’s missive notes how the ARC tunnel is “critical for the transit riders of New Jersey and the region.”‘
I want to restate my commitment of those funds controlled bv the State of New Jersey, specifically funding from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA), the Federal Highway Administration and the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). Also attached is a reconfirmation of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) $3 billion commitment to the project…
With respect to the reauthorization of the TTF as it relates to the recapitalization of the transit system, the State of New Jersey has a long history of reauthorizing the TTF on time and I will not let the TTF expire on my watch.
Now that the TTF is running dry and Christie has pledged to keep taxes in New Jersey low, he’s running into quite the pickle. He could quash a badly-needed train tunnel or he could renege on his pledge to keep taxes down. Based on the region’s lackluster embrace of transit expansion plans, would it surprise me to see him embrace the ARC tunnel if it costs even $1 more than current projections? Yes, it would.
TSTC, meanwhile, again voiced its support for the project. Noting the planning criticism surrounding it (and responding in turn), Steven Higashide reports on a letter sent to Christie, co-signed by the heads of the TSTC, New Jersey Future and the RPA. “Stalling ARC,” the three warn, “will only lead to higher expenses later and could mean New Jersey would have to refund the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars and miss out on thousands of desperately needed, well-paying jobs.”
These are trying economic times for the country’s states as debt limits are maxed out and budgets are running in the red by no small amount. Yet, to see a project of this magnitude and importance shelved would be a blow to the area’s transportation infrastructure and the regions economy. Gov. Christie should swallow hard and continue to support the ARC tunnel no matter what this 30-day review says.
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Update (10:50 a.m.): Andrea Bernstein over at Transportation Nation wrote a similar overview of the state of the ARC project today. She compares Christie’s stance on the tunnel with his ideological entrenchment against the highway trust fund and doesn’t see a bright future for this project. “If he sticks with his ideological commitment — and he’s known for that — the ARC project,” she concludes, “is in deep, deep trouble.”
The Star-Ledger, in an editorial today, urges Christie to keep this project on pace. Comparing it to the New Jersey governor’s failed Race To The Top bid, the paper notes that this tunnel is “widely recognized as vital to the region’s economy” and highlights how the initial price estimate was a collaboration between a Bush official who now works for Christie and then-Gov. Corzine’s office. It isn’t, in other words, as cut-and-dry as Christie’s politicking makes it sound. “Throwing stones,” the paper says, “at Corzine is not the leadership we need. It’s a cop out.”