NJ Transportation Commissioner: Transit Money Could Go to Roads if Tunnel is Halted

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(Matthew Schuerman, WNYC)

(This post has been updated.) A number of transit advocates suspect New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to use money allocated for a commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River and apply it to roads and bridges in his state.

His transportation commissioner Jim Simpson said today that wasn’t the plan, but it might come to pass.

Under questioning from state Senator Paul Sarlo, Simpson said he “hadn’t thought about it that way,” but he went on:

I don’t know but let’s look at the source of the money. You’ve got a billion dollars of federal money that comes to the New Jersey Department of Transportation that would normally be associated with highway projects. You’ve got that billion coming in—100 million a year—that is rededicated, flexed to ARC. So if ARC didn’t happen there’s a billion dollars for roads and bridges and things like that.

Simpson said the decision on the ARC tunnel—the acronym for the pair of tunnels that NJ Transit broke ground on last summer—would be made on its own merits. But he said if the tunnel’s canceled, using the money on road projects would be “the other end of the equation.”

Christie halted work on the tunnel Sept. 10 and is expected to decide later this week whether to cancel the project. He said the state didn’t have enough money to cover cost overruns from the $8.7 billion tunnel.

Simpson appeared at a hearing that the Joint Budget Oversight Committee called after the Christie administration cancelled more than 100 road and transit projects around the state. That halt came on Friday, because the Democratic-controlled legislature was refusing to approve a $1.7 billion bond deal that’s supposed to keep the construction projects underway until next spring.

After today's hearing, two Democrats broke ranks with leadership and voted, along with two Republicans on the panel, in favor of the borrowing. About 2,000 construction workers are expected to go back on the job Tuesday.