Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) In his blog today and in a full-throated op-ed in the Newark Star-Ledger, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gives a passionate eulogy to the ARC transit tunnel that was to go from New Jersey to Manhattan, but was killed this week by NJ Governor Chris Christie. Workers are now refilling the dirt in the giant hole. LaHood said today:
Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to terminate America’s largest transportation project was particularly disappointing. Unfortunately, his choice comes with profound consequences for New Jersey, the New York metropolitan region and our nation as a whole.
Tens of thousands of jobs that the tunnel would have created will be lost. Future New Jerseyans will face shrinking property values, suffocating road traffic, interminable train delays and increasing air pollution. A $3.358 billion federal investment in the region’s economic future will move elsewhere.
The caption to the photo above (of the portal to the current, lone, Hudson river train tunnel) asks "is this really the symbol we want for America's infrastructure?"
But in the roughly six weeks between when Governor Christie first ordered the tunnel reviewed -- and even after LaHood had flown to Trenton to try and turn Christie around, Ray LaHood was almost entirely mum. After meeting with Christie three weeks ago, he brushed past reporters. His office issued only a terse statement that day, saying he'd had a "good discussion," with Christie, and proposals would be reviewed. Last week, while at a ceremonial ground-breaking at New York City's Moynihan station, LaHood was simiarly terse.
"He and I agreed that over a two week period, we would put together a plan for a path forward and we will be meeting with him at the end of the two weeks and presenting that information."
Meanwhile, Christie was defining the narrative, speaking about the ARC tunnel both at official Trenton events and while out stumping for fellow Republicans.
But the U.S. DOT wasn't talking, at least not publicly.
Then, last Friday the U.S. DOT issued its first extensive release on the project. From LaHood:
"In response to press reports, I want to clarify the range of numbers regarding the ARC tunnel project.
“The Department of Transportation has estimated the low-range cost of the project at $9.775 billion. The mid-range estimate is $10.909 billion and the high-end range is $12.708 billion.
The release seemed to confirm that New Jersey taxpayers would be stuck with a very large bill, much larger than the state's $2.7 billion commitment.
But behind the scenes, LaHood was working furiously, and preparing for another face-to-face meeting with Christie. It turns out that the federal government had developed a number of serious, substantive proposals for Christie. They included, as we were to learn:
$358 million more in direct grants, plus another $358 million that would come from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. That would alleviate New Jersey's responsibility for about three quarters of a billion dollars in costs.
Then, there was an offer to set up a public private partnership to take over even more of the overruns, another to rescope the project to reduce costs and improve connectivity to New York's Penn Station (reflecting another Christie criticism, that the project was badly designed.) And then, if that didn't cover it, New Jersey would be eligible for a low-cost federal loan.
None of this satisfied Christie. He said he was still concerned that even with all the extra goodies on the table, he'd be throwing good money after bad, and that at the end of the day, there was no ironclad guarantee there wouldn't be an additional cost to New Jersey taxpayers.
There was a substantive debate to be had here, one that is now lost to the sands of time.
Because neither party released full details until after a decision had been made. Why? Do you know? Please comment, or feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.