Home Gateway Tunnel Is Gateway a victory for Gov. Christie?

Is Gateway a victory for Gov. Christie?

by Benjamin Kabak

The Gateway Tunnel provides for nine fewer peak-hour trains than ARC did. (Click the image to enlarge.)

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.

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Marc Shepherd February 10, 2011 - 5:46 pm

If we assume that Gateway gets built — and that’s an awfully big if, given the history of proposed-but-not-built transit in this region — Christie can legitimately claim victory.

Christie may have had nothing to do with the design, but clearly Gateway wouldn’t have been proposed if ARC were still alive, and Christie cancelled ARC single-handedly. Furthermore, Gateway (if built as now envisioned) certainly does remedy many of the very things Christie claimed were wrong with ARC.

That New Jersey commuters would get fewer benefits is a subtlety that I doubt will matter to most of Christie’s constituents. In fact, they might even prefer it that way. Christie wanted New Jersey to pay less. And it stands to reason that if you pay less, you get less. It is still a pretty substantial improvement for NJ commuters (if built), just not quite as substantial as it would have been.

The fact that Christie is being short-sighted and dishonest is not surprising, given that constituents in the tri-state region have a long history of not understanding transit. Who’s the last politician that was voted out of office for under-funding transit? I can’t name one.

Eric F. February 10, 2011 - 5:51 pm

Can we take a step back here? I’d like you to consider another angle. The cancellation of ARC was a huge blow to Lautenberg and Menendez. You may not see it that way, but the fact is that the federal contribution to ARC was laughably small and did not permit NJ to get the job done without risking taking on a catastrophic financial commitment. At some point the voters may take a hard look and wonder what the heck these guys are good for if they can’t bring home some $ from Washington when they run the place. Looked at in that context, this dog and pony show for Gateway, that featured no federal DOT participation, and promised only to request money at some indetermintae future date for a “study” was a face saving gesture for NJ’s two senators that has about as much to do with producing an actual train tunnel as it does with growing lemon trees in the meadowlands. I understand you have partisan leanings, but think about it. Do you seriously think we’ll be taking concrete steps to advance Gateway? Gateway already accompished everything it was intended to accomplish. It provides a talking point in a future election campaign. It may sound hard to believe on a transit blog, but Christie wasn’t the guy with the problem after ARC was canceled.

Bolwerk February 10, 2011 - 6:55 pm

1/3 the cost is laughably small? NJ only had to chip in 1/3 itself, and Christie only had keep costs under control.

Marc Shepherd February 11, 2011 - 8:47 am

That isn’t quite true, because NJ was the only one of the three contributors whose cost liability was uncapped. The only way NJ would pay 1/3 is if the project came in on budget, which it was highly unlikely to do.

Christie couldn’t single-handedly “keep costs under control,” given that so many of them were beyond his purview. In addition, the project would almost certainly take longer to build than his tenure in office.

Bolwerk February 11, 2011 - 12:42 pm

Whose fault is that? Knowing it wasn’t going to come in on budget, he should have pushed for a redesign: two more tracks to today’s Penn while keeping current funding in place. That really was the only difference between responsibly, intellectually honestly canceling the project because reworking it was impossible and what Christie did in the end.

Marc Shepherd February 11, 2011 - 1:18 pm

Right, but you need to distinguish Christie’s criticism (which was absolutely 100 percent correct) and his response to it (which is debatable).

At the point ARC was cancelled, literally years of design and engineering work had led to the project as defined, with a new station “under Macy’s basement.” It’s not as if he could have just issued an order, and re-routed it to the current Penn Station. You’re talking about a complete re-design, which would take years.

And as I recall, re-design was not one of the options those pressing to save the project were open to considering. They already believed, whether rightly or wrongly, that they had the best design. They did offer Christie a number of other funding options, which weren’t well enough fleshed out to really know whether they would have worked. It is certainly possible that Christie was going to cancel ARC no matter what they said.

John-2 February 11, 2011 - 2:14 pm

The fault for the original problem falls on Corzine or even going back to McGreevy, for green lighting an ARC project that left New Jersey open to the threat of having to shoulder the burden for any major cost overruns. If that was the best deal they could make when New York State basically walked away from helping with the project, they should have washed their hands of the proposal and started trying to put together a less risky package, similar to what’s now on the table (Corzine seems to have taken about as much time to look at the financials on this one as it did trying to drive back from Atlantic City to get to that Imus-Rutgers women’s basketball team photo-op).

Now that there’s a new option in place which both benefits and needs the support of areas and elected representatives outside of New Jersey and the Metro NYC area, and one that Christie has said is better than the ARC option, the onus is on him to become a player in helping to secure the funds for Gateway. If he shows indifference here, then the critics can have at him for caring more about road infrastructure within the state than in getting it’s citizens to and from their jobs in New York City.

Bolwerk February 11, 2011 - 2:27 pm

I am distinguishing between the two, while not forgetting that there is no excuse for these kinds of overruns on already overpriced projects.

A big delay in the project isn’t something I’d have batted an eye about. Given the points Christie made, a big delay and some financial re-negotiations that take months or years would have been very understandable. However, that Christie did something that might still have done irreparable harm to regional-federal relations and might have turned back the clock even more than “a big delay” I find to be very unacceptable and irresponsible.

I agree that those advocating the project are generally not thinking it out well either (if that’s what you’re implying). Christie, however, was in a position to seize the issue and say, “Look, we need to cut this and this out and put these tracks to Penn. We can afford that, and the financing is there if the feds and PA agree.” Among other factors, LaHood’s desire to see that project through might have made that a very tenable possibility. AFAIC, that would have made all the difference between irresponsibility and basic common sense.

To be clear: I criticize Christie’s behavior before I criticize his political position. However, I think the position was executed with deliberate, undue haste. Regardless of what the moron rail advocates in NJ wanted, I don’t think it’s hard to distinguish between need (access to the region’s core) and fluff (grand stations that don’t improve access to the region’s core) and I don’t excuse politicians who can’t do it. Seriously, if you’re playing up your leadership and ability to make tough decisions, it’s hard to argue with that.

To go off on a bit of a tangent here:
Penn Station South = fluff

Batcave/Macy’s basement station = fluff

Moynihan Station = fluff

More tracks to Penn or GCT = critical!

Nathanael March 3, 2011 - 4:28 pm

I’m afraid we DO need more passenger circulation space at Penn. Moynihan seems like the cheapest way to provide it, while also putting a historic building into use; Penn South and the Batcave seem like very expensive ways to provide it, while also not being very pleasant.

Moynihan is very much doable in phases. I am glad that the underground part with new entrances is getting done. The movement of Amtrak office space out of the MSG basement into Farley should be doable next….

SEAN February 10, 2011 - 6:30 pm

When Christie speaks it’s as if the same words could be comeing from Westchester County executive Rob Astorino. The only difference is the size of the ego involved.

It won’t take too long before the voters get tired of both of them.

Bolwerk February 10, 2011 - 7:00 pm

I don’t really see NJ as a big winner here (as Mark said, assuming Gateway is built). A few more NJT trains an hour is good for them, but will they be guaranteed those slots in the future? What happens when gasoline is $8/gallon or more?

However, NJ isn’t especially a loser either – but then, every state from Maine to Virginia and perhaps then some could benefit from this if HSR works out (another big if).

Donald February 10, 2011 - 7:38 pm

Not a single foot of the Gateway Tunnel should be built until Christie returns the $271 million that he STOLE from the feds.

Frank B. February 11, 2011 - 12:53 pm

Amen to that!

Clarke February 10, 2011 - 7:49 pm

Amtrak should route New Jersey out of HSR. Have it come into NYC, then go up the Hudson, north along the state border, then via Scranton and Wilkes-Barre into Philadelphia. That’s what you get when you don’t play well with others.

Anonymoose February 10, 2011 - 9:12 pm

No, bypass Pennsylvania all together. Direct NYC-DC service via an underwater tunnel 14 miles off the NJ coast, then straight west across Delaware and Maryland.

Alon Levy February 11, 2011 - 12:05 am

DC is useless. I say, build a vactrain from New York to London.

ant6n February 11, 2011 - 12:21 am

That’ll be the day.

orulz February 11, 2011 - 9:49 am

Europe is on its way out, China is where it’s at these days. A tunnel straight through the center of the earth to Shanghai is what we really need.

Chris February 11, 2011 - 10:41 am

And with gravity doing all the work the environmental benefits are enormous!

John-2 February 10, 2011 - 10:46 pm

If you’re taking a snapshot of the situation on 2/10/11 then, yes, Christie is vindicated right now. But things don’t remain static, and while Gateway is a better overall proposal both for it’s flexibility and it’s functionality for rail passengers from Massachusetts to Virginia, it’s still just a concept on the drawing board in need of funding.

It may not need as much of a commitment from New Jersey taxpayers, but it needs a commitment at the federal level. And while a tunnel that serves the entire Northeast Corridor can garner more support than an ARC option just serving NJ Transit commuters, it’s still going to require lobbying and deal-making to become a reality. As a budding star in national Republican politics, Christie can’t just stay detached from the project if he wants to be a success at the state level – he’s going to have to spend some of his political capital in the effort to get Gateway funded.

Failure to do so might help him with fiscal conservatives on the national stage, but he’s already a RINO to the far right of the party over his stance on gun control and support for other more moderate Republicans. So he’s not going to win them over, but he can lose lots of state voters if he shows he’s indifferent at best to what he’s already labeled as a better financial deal for New Jersey.

Alon Levy February 11, 2011 - 12:06 am

It’s a victory for Christie iff New Jersey is not expected to put significant contribution to the project. If the feds pay for everything, he can claim victory, temporarily – it might haunt him if he runs for national office, though. If Jersey is expected to put in the same amount of money as before, he’s gotten nothing.

ant6n February 11, 2011 - 12:23 am

Well, they did abandon that deep cavern station, that his wife didn’t like.

BBnet3000 February 11, 2011 - 12:49 am

That nobody liked. Some people said it was a necessary evil, but I dont think anyone could be said to have liked it.

It wasnt a necessary evil.

Craig February 17, 2011 - 2:02 pm

“If Jersey is expected to put in the same amount of money as before, he’s gotten nothing.”

Unless he’s able to cap New Jersey’s liability for cost overruns. The core of Christie’s stated objection wasn’t to the concept or to New Jersey’s contribution of one-third of the project’s cost, it was to the unknown-but-almost-certainly-huge cost overruns, for which New Jersey alone would have been liable.

pete February 11, 2011 - 8:08 am

Why so many less NJ Transit trains under Gateway? What are the turnaround times for the platforms? Is this FRA and union BS delaying each turnaround of a NJT train at Penn?

Marc Shepherd February 11, 2011 - 8:43 am

As far as I can tell, there are two factors. The first is that Gateway would support 21 trains per hour vs. 25 tph for ARC. I am assuming that the difference is due to traffic conflicts entering and leaving Penn Station. ARC, with its separate station north and east of Penn, would have had no such conflicts.

The other factor is that Gateway proposes to allocate 8 tph to Amtrak, leaving 13 for NJ Transit. In the ARC proposal, I believe Amtrak would have been allotted only 3 or 4 tph. Bear in mind that NJ Transit was the lead agency for ARC, whereas Amtrak would most likely be the lead agency for Gateway.

Alon Levy February 11, 2011 - 2:07 pm

Gateway doesn’t need such conflicts, either. Neither does just feeding into the existing Penn Station. Neither does through-running. Trains using the old tunnels and the northern LIRR tunnel pair (remember, the LIRR tunnels are configured as wb-eb-wb-eb, not wb-wb-eb-eb) would use the northern tracks, and trains using the new tunnels and the southern LIRR tunnel pair would use the central tracks.

Alt G would introduce a single conflict, between trains from Grand Central to Penn and trains from Penn to the southern LIRR tracks. Fixing that would require some work, but nothing huge.

Woody February 11, 2011 - 9:35 am

About that map. Am I seeing a little date, bottom right, reading July 5, 2009? I’m squinting pretty hard so I could be getting it wrong, but it sure does NOT say, “January, 2011”. So this preferred layout has been sitting on the shelf for a year and a half? Oh, well.

Then I look at the tracks aligned under Penn Station South, between 30th and 31st Sts. I like that they seem to extend all the way under 7th Ave and into the next block. Seems they will be pretty deep to go under the 1,2,3 IRT trains on 7th Avenue, so maybe later these tracks could be punched through to useful points east.

But if the new tracks and platforms can go under the subway line on 7th Ave, why can’t they also extend under 30th St? Wouldn’t that give space for another track and platform? Wouldn’t that allow a few more trains per hour and possibly allow a one-seat connection for the northern New Jersey commuter lines?

Marc Shepherd February 11, 2011 - 9:49 am

Right: the design for this layout has been around a while. ARC itself considered a very similar design, which it rejected.

The design as it stands does not require an extra platform to permit a one-seat ride for the northern NJ lines. That could be built at any point in the future. The reason it’s not in the design is that Amtrak doesn’t care about it, and Amtrak is the lead sponsor for Gateway.

orulz February 11, 2011 - 9:47 am

As for the new one-seat rides, if NJ ponies up to build the loop at Secaucus, perhaps a $250 million project at the most, then they will get their one seat rides. I have a feeling that even Christie would view that as a “fair deal” for New Jersey.

So in actuality, NJ doesn’t lose all that much here. A few peak hour train slots.

Al D February 11, 2011 - 11:58 am

Wait. Gov. Cheapsie is taking credit for the new proposal? Let’s see. All he did was cancel ARC. Nothing more, nothing less. And that was his intent from the get go. He was not open to anything else. Did he offer the Gateway Tunnel as a viable alternative? No, that came from Amtrak and the 2 NJ Senators, Lautenberg and Menendez. Well, I guess I missed school the day they thought this form of reasoning.

To say Gov. Cheapsie is a blowhard is likely an understatement.

Frank B. February 11, 2011 - 1:09 pm

Quite frankly, I propose that Amtrak levy ridiculous charges on New Jersey to use both its North River and new Gateway tunnels, just to spite Christie.

And I’m only half-kidding.

This is obviously a much better proposal for the Northeast Corridor, and really, the preferred design for the tunnel throughout this entire fiasco. But Christie doesn’t realize even though NJ and the PA will still have to pony up dough to build this tunnel, Amtrak will own it, and NJ transit will benefit a great deal less than with the ARC tunnel. That’s what this joker doesn’t get. Even one less train per hour is unacceptable. NJ needs capacity desperately.

Christie does deserve indirect credit for this, even I could admit that. But it was Lautenberg and Menedez who saved the day. Christie just lit the fire, these two put it out.

The state, the city, and the Northeast Corridor is rapidly expanding its need for transit. In 10 years, when this bloody project is finally over with, we may once again need another tunnel…

Alon Levy February 11, 2011 - 2:08 pm

As far as Amtrak goes, it doesn’t matter what’s built. For Amtrak’s own service, everything from Alt P-cavern to Alt G would increase its capacity by the same amount. The only difference is that a good commuter network acts as intercity rail feeder – but Amtrak doesn’t and has never cared about improving its connecting transit. It’s just turf wars, really.

Bolwerk February 11, 2011 - 2:35 pm

Not care? Probably can’t afford to anyway. But I do sometimes wonder if, way up in the ivory towers of Amtrak, MTA, and NJT board rooms, between the odd sip of scotch and puff at a Cohiba, someone occasionally suggests, “Hey, since it would improve our finances and theirs, do you think we should work more closely with x to improve service?”

And then they all laugh a hollow laugh, and crack open another bottle!

Alon Levy February 11, 2011 - 5:29 pm

An Amtrak train derailed at rush hour in Queens, just outside the tunnels. A few LIRR trains had to be canceled. The MTA’s response: “It doesn’t become a problem for us until rush hour.” I don’t think the spokesperson intended to say he didn’t mind off-peak derailments, but still…

Andrew February 13, 2011 - 8:44 pm

In other words, it didn’t require any cancellations until rush hour. (The derailment itself occurred at 12:25.)

Nathanael March 3, 2011 - 4:30 pm

Actually, Alt G would allow through-routing from Albany to Philly, which probably would be a direct benefit to Amtrak.


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