For New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the future of the ARC Tunnel is all about money. He fears the project will come in well overbudget; he wants more guaranteed federal money for this massive infrastructure investment; and he’s not going to let it go forward until he gets his dollars. Later today, according to numerous reports, Christie will announce that he and the feds are at a funding impasse, and he will again kill the project.
“It’s all about the money,” Christie said yesterday, and the past two week’s politicking is a sure sign of that. Christie first called the project into question in early September when he ordered a review of the budget. After not quite reviewing the budget but simply pondering federal projections, Christie canceled the tunnel on Oct. 7. Under pressure from the feds, who had already committed $3 billion to the project, he promised a two-week review, but the writing was on the wall. On Friday, the federal cost projections, showing potential overruns of up to $4 billion, leaked, and the project’s fate was all but sealed.
According to The Star-Ledger, the feds know it’s all about the money. Sources close to the governor allege that Ray LaHood and his staff “offered to improve the financing terms but committed no new money.” Without the additional funds, Christie could not commit a financially-troubled state to the build. Barring a last-minute reprieve, ARC, the country’s biggest public-works project, will die.
The New Jersey-based paper has a bit more on the decision:
Washington transportation planners have been “aggressive” in trying to convince the governor to reinstate the tunnel project and have offered alternate financing and the possibility of scaling back parts of the mammoth trans-Hudson undertaking, the officials said. But Christie has been emphatic that he wants more money from other sources — like the federal government — and, without that, he would have no reason to change his original plan.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) released a statement blasting 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. 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.”
Money, money, money. It’s a common theme here. Someone wants money, and the same someone doesn’t have money. That someone also needs to find money to restore his state’s broke Transportation Trust Fund, and what better way to do so than by canceling a giant tunnel out of New Jersey that has garnered only lukewarm support from many of the Garden State’s transit advocates? And so the ARC will die, and twenty years of planning will be flushed down the drain.
There are, of course, many solutions Christie could have pursued. He could have worked with the feds to cut down on the costs of the project. He could have started building it and, if he’s still the governor when the time comes, simply ordered to stop when the money ran out. At that point, the state would have more leverage to negotiate with the feds over completion funds. He could have figured out a way to, as the feds seemed to have offered, bond more money out of it. After all, a new tunnel that increases capacity is the perfect bond project because it will generate massive amounts of revenue that will go toward bond payments six or seven years down the line. He did not.
So New York’s economy and New Jersey’s economy loses out. The meager tunnel underneath the Hudson River in use by New Jersey Transit trains will remain the sole access point to the city, and trains will remain crowded. Too many cars will try to drive in from Jersey, and commuters who have seen train crowds more than double over the last 12 years will find space and comfort at a premium.
Who knows when a project of this scope will next get off the drawing board? The next iteration of the ARC Tunnel should address the concerns of those who worry about the deep cavern and the lack of integration with Amtrak. The next iteration of the ARC Tunnel will also require even more money than this one. Even as the project promises to improve commute times and increase property values, it will die the death of cost overruns. After all, it’s all about the money, and the money just isn’t there.