After LaHood Meeting, Christie To Take Another Look at Transit Tunnel

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(Trenton, NJ -- Matthew Schuerman, WNYC) A day after canceling a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he'll take another look at it.

Christie promised a two-week review of several options that could salvage the tunnel after an hour-long meeting with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

But the Republican governor, in a statement issued shortly after the meeting, insisted the project was "financially not viable" and likely to exceed its 8-point-7 billion budget "dramatically."

"This afternoon, Secretary LaHood presented several options to potentially salvage a trans Hudson tunnel project," Christie said in a statement. "At the Secretary’s request, I’ve agreed to have Executive Director of NJ Transit Jim Weinstein and members from his team work with U.S. Department of Transportation staff to study those options over the next two weeks.”

Christie's spokesman added that steps are still being taken to shut down the project.

The two-week review follows a 30-day review that Christie ordered last month to examine the likely cost overruns that the project will encounter. That review, instead of sharpening estimates of the tunnel's actual cost, ended up merely reiterating the broad range of figures that state and federal had come up with earlier in the summer, from $11 billion to $14 billion. The Obama administration has not confirmed those cost estimates, however.

LaHood left the meeting, held at Christie's office in Trenton, without commenting to reporters. But later his office issued a statement saying the two officials had held a "good discussion" and that the working group would give Christie a report within two weeks.

The tunnel, which broke ground last year, was expected to double the number of New Jersey residents who could travel each day by train into Manhattan from about 45,000 a day to 90,000.

The project was close to the Obama administration's heart: it received a large chunk of the stimulus package last year and, in addition to other federal grants, was slated to receive more money from Washington than any other transit project in the nation: $3 billion.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, said that the likelihood of New Jersey losing that aid came up during the meeting.

"The Secretary was clear with Governor Christie: if this tunnel doesn't get built, the three billion dollars will go to other states," Lautenberg said in a statement. "We can't allow that to happen."

Friday's news drew cautious praise from environmental and civic groups that support the tunnel, which is called ARC--or Access to the Region's Core.

“While a two week extension still seems like a short period of time, we’re heartened to learn the project has been granted a temporary stay of execution,”  Bob Yaro, the president of the Regional Plan Association, said.

It's unclear whether the review will consist of a serious negotiation, or is merely a face-saving measure for rail and transit advocate LaHood.