Is Gateway a victory for Gov. Christie?By
When Amtrak and New Jersey’s two Senators announced the Gateway Tunnel this week, Chris Christie, New Jersey’s in-your-face governor, decided to take credit for it. Even though the federal officials intentionally cut Christie out of the initial loop on this project, New Jersey’s chief executive used Gateway as a vindication of his decision to cancel ARC.
“I said: Why don’t we do this? Why doesn’t Amtrak build the tunnel? We were getting it stuck to us by the state of New York and the federal government. And I said, ‘No, no, no. You’re not going to stick it to the state of New Jersey while I’m governor — no chance,’” Christie said yesterday.
Christie, of course, famously canceled the ARC Tunnel when its projected price tag rose from $8 billion to somewhere in the $9-$13 billion range. Despite the fact that the Gateway Tunnel includes a replacement of the Portal Bridge while ARC did not, Christie claims that the $13.5-billion project costs for Amtrak’s tunnel justify his decision. “They told me I made up the cost overruns,” Christie said.
He doesn’t, however, hold a grudge. “As the plans become more clear, if they want New Jersey to become a partner with New York, with the federal government, I’ll consider a fair deal for New Jersey,” he said. A fair deal, of course, would mean that someone else foots the bill for the cost overruns even as New Jersey stands to benefit.
Christie, meanwhile, isn’t the only one claiming victory for himself. Commentary, the neo-Conservative magazine, proclaimed it a victory as well. “While no one in New Jersey is happy about the dismal service offered by New Jersey Transit or the fact that it will be many years before things get better, those who predicted that his tunnel decision would sink Christie were dead wrong,” Jonathan Tobin wrote. “Voters wanted a governor would treat the state treasury as something other than a bottomless piggy bank for bondoggles like the tunnel (whose bloated costs were unhappily reminiscent of plot lines in The Sopranos) when they elected Christie. He stuck to his principles and then forced the rest of the political establishment to follow his lead.”
Never mind the factual inaccuracies or how Christie is taking out the same loans to pay for road repair — much to the chagrin of The Times — the Xanadu Project and an Atlantic City bailout that could have gone toward ARC. If a bunch of folks from New Jersey wants the benefits of a rail tunnel but none of the costs, well, then that’s just what they’re going to attempt to say they got.
Of course, the truth is far from what Christie is promoting, and it’s worth it to revisit how the Gateway is not the ARC Tunnel. As Jeremy Steinemann noted here on Tuesday, the new tunnel is weighted toward interstate travel and not commutes into the city. New Jersey Transit will enjoy nine fewer peak-hour trips through Gateway than through ARC, and it won’t offer a one-seat ride from the Bergen and Passaic Lines. That one-seat ride was one of the key selling points for ARC, and it made that tunnel truly revolutionary.
Ultimately, I can’t say for sure that Christie was or was not vindicated. As with many topics, the truth comes in shades of grey. Christie didn’t try to keep costs down; he didn’t work hard to find funding partners; he’s not being honest with the leftover money; and the new plan doesn’t benefit New Jersey commuters — his constituents — as much as the old. But it seems as though he’s shifted the costs away from his state and has placed the onus on federal policymakers instead. Politically, it’s a win for him even as those who chose him for office would have been better off with ARC.