When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie killed the ARC Tunnel project, he did so in the name of fiscal responsibility. Cost overruns for the project, based on FTA estimates, could have ranged from $1-$5 billion, and while the FTA noted that better project oversight would have kept those costs within a reasonable range, Christie, to gain a name for himself, torpedoed a project that would have brought $4 billion in federal money to the state and provided for 44,000 jobs as well as faster rides for nearly every city-bound Jersey commuter. It was, needless to say, a big blow to the area’s transit progress.
Yesterday, we learned just how far the limits of Christie’s fiscal “responsibility” stretch. With a Super Bowl on tap for the Meadowlands in 2014 and an ugly hulk of colorful panels known as Xanadu sitting on the turnpike, unfinished and broke, Christie’s administration has promised $400 million in subsidies and tax breaks to Triple Five, the Mall of America owners, if they finish the project. The group will have to spend up to $2 billion to do so, will give the ugly structure a new outside and will call it American Dream@Meadowlands.
Transit advocates in New Jersey are feeling the sting. As TM Brown at Radials notes, Christie has made what is essentially a political decision to fund private development over a public works project. While the ARC Tunnel commitment could have been more substantial, it also promised more federal dollars and greater economic benefits for the state. “It seems,” he writes, “almost inappropriate in a time of forced and severe austerity for millions of Americans that Gov. Christie has decided to fund what amounts to a temple to profound consumption and, just a year before, defunded a project that would have improved life and finances for millions. Though if people are happy with the defunding of the ARC tunnel, they can always go skiing in Xanadu.”