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.
A day after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called a permanent halt to construction of a new commuter train tunnel, he says he will "study new options." This comes following a meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Trenton Friday. In a statement following the meeting Christie said, he still considers the tunnel "not financially viable."
Christie said his view that the tunnel is "not financially viable," remains "unchanged," but agreed to allow the executive director of NJ Transit to meet with members of the U.S. Department of Transportation. They will study the options to "potentially salvage a trans Hudson tunnel project."
LaHood's office has been tight-lipped about what he could offer Christie to bring the tunnel, which would run under the Hudson River from New Jersey to Manhattan, back from the dead. His office issued a statement that was almost identical to Christie's: "Governor Christie and I had a good discussion this afternoon, during which I presented a number of options for continuing the ARC tunnel project. We agreed to put together a small working group from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the office of NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein that will review these options and provide a report to Governor Christie within two weeks."
LaHood, a former Republican Congressman from Peoria, Illinois, has been a big advocate of rail and tunnel projects. He's made the Obama Administration's "liveability initiative," to create denser, more transit-rich communities a high priority during his tenure.
The tunnel was to have doubled the capacity of New Jersey transit, decreasing commutes by 40 minutes, easing congestion and reducing the carbon emmissions from automobiles.
But at a Thursday press conference in Trenton, Christie said he'd become increasingly concerned since meeting with LaHood in February, when LaHood said the federal government could not increase its $3 billion commitment to the $8.7 billion project. Christie said FTA estimates and his own analysis showed cost overruns could go anywhere from $2 to $5 billion. "You can't make a size 10 foot fit into a size seven shoe," Christie said. "It just won't work."
But sources familiar with the discussions between Christie and the FTA dispute that, saying the FTA had not arrived at a final number for potential overruns and that the FTA was meeting with New Jersey to try and resolve this issue as recently as this week.
New Jersey's U.S senators reacted angrily to the decision. "New Jersey taxpayers are now the owners of a brand new, $600 million 'Hole To Nowhere,'" Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez said in a statement. At a press conference at Newark's Penn Station, Sen. Frank Lautenberg said the decision "was one of the biggest policy blunders in New Jersey history."
While some New Jerseyans are applauding Christie's belt-tightening, the Regional Plan Association, a project advocate, said it would choke economic growth. Earlier this year, the RPA released a study showing New Jersey real estate values were already increasing in anticipation of tunnel construction.
Updated at 4:15 p.m.