Despite a report yesterday that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will soon pull the plug on the ARC Tunnel, sources close to the project tell me that word of the project’s demise may be premature. While saving the ARC Tunnel may be a longshot, those fighting for it say that Gov. Christie is not taking his decision lightly, and with the 30-day moratorium expiring on Sunday, advocacy groups are urging the governor to take the time to conduct a thorough review of the project.
Speaking on the record yesterday after the initial reports came out, Christie defended his administration’s due diligence. He said:
I have not made any decision I have not been given the information yet by my executive director of NJ Transit or my commissioner of transportation regarding what the real cost of the ARC tunnel going from New Jersey to New York is going to be, and until I get those real costs I can’t make a decision. But what I do know is this: I was alerted to the fact that there were potential for significant cost overruns. And New Jersey’s broke. And the federal government’s made it clear that New Jersey will be on the hook for any cost overruns on the project.
Well I gotta know what those cost overruns are gonna look like, and whether we’re going to have the money to pay for it or not. So that’s why I put a thirty day halt to construction said go back sharpen your pencils and come back to me. The thirty days runs up this week. When I get back to New Jersey tomorrow I’ll be meeting with my transportation commissioner and my New Jersey transit executive director and they’ll give me information and I’ll have to make a decision. But no I haven’t made any decisions yet at all.
Sources say that Christie understand the magnitude of this project. He knows that $600 million in contracts has already been awarded; he knows that the $3 billion in federal money will create thousands of jobs for a state struggling through a bad economy; he knows that the New York region will continue to grow and that rail access into and out of the city needs to expand. He knows that other municipalities are chomping at the bit for a crack of that $3 billion from the feds, and he also knows that his state cannot afford to spend money it doesn’t have.
Noting that he won’t get the support from the federal government or from the city of New York to cover potential cost overruns today, he said that the project’s future boils down to one of pure economics. “The criteria will be the reliability of the numbers that I’m provided and the back-up for that in terms of what the real cost of this project will be — and then making a cold-hearted analysis of whether the state of New Jersey can afford it,” he said.
While Sen. Frank Lautenberg suggested that the Port Authority cover overruns, Christie has noted that the Port Authority’s money comes from New Jersey. In other words, that idea seems to be a non-starter.
Currently, New Jersey Transit officials are conducting a line-by-line review of the ARC Tunnel’s budget and projected expenses in an effort to identify potential cost overruns and a true price tag. Thomas Wright and Juliette Michaelson at the RPA have urged Christie to extend this review. The project, they noted, originated in 1990 and should not be so lightly discarded. They write:
Both the TTF and ARC are critical to the future of the state, and options exist to see them both through. Gov. Christie could continue to negotiate with the construction unions, which have already indicated a willingness to make concessions on their contracts. The Port Authority, a bi-state agency with long-range planning expertise and a core competency in building infrastructure, could also take over the project and assume any potential cost overruns. A compromise could also be negotiated, whereby Gov. Christie reallocated the revenue from future Turnpike toll increases ($1.25 billion) to the TTF and transit users funded the gap with a new “ARC Surcharge” on their fares. Finally, instead of worrying about potential cost overruns that may or may not materialize — the contract bids that have come in so far are right on budget — we could move forward with the financing plan we have in place now, and worry about budget overruns if and when they materialize.
If Gov. Christie is serious about killing ARC, then he must do his due diligence and determine the price that New Jersey’s economy will be paying in terms of more delays and over-crowding on NJ TRANSIT trains, and the effect of poor transit service on individuals and businesses seeking to locate in New Jersey.
Thirty days may be long enough to kill ARC, but it is surely not enough time to devise a successful strategy to fund both the best-planned transit investment in the nation and the necessary maintenance of the state’s road system. Before killing ARC, we call on Gov. Christie to extend the review period to 90 days, giving himself and other state leaders a meaningful chance to keep New Jersey competitive and sustainable.
And so we wait on the future of a project that is entirely necessary for the region and seemingly on life support. It’s not too late for the ARC Tunnel to be saved, but the clock is ticking.