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Transportation Nation

Christie Owns His Role in Halting Giant Transit Tunnel; Planners Dismayed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) "People who use New Jersey Transit have to pay for New Jersey Transit." That's what Governor Chris Christie told the Star-Ledger Editorial Board last spring. NJ Transit fares hadn't been raised in years, he argued, and that wasn't responsible. But neither, a member of the board pointed out, had the gas tax. In fact, the fare had been raised three years earlier -- the gas tax, not in 21 years. "What's the difference between a gas tax hike and a fare hike -- besides who it lands on?" asked another of the journalists.

"That's the difference," Christie said. "My policy choice is that drivers have paid increased tolls two years in the last four years and I didn't think it was their turn to feel the pain." (The Tri-State Transportation Campaign fact-checks that -- they say it's actually been one raise, in seven years.)

Christie seems to making a similar policy choice today: with the highway trust fund broke, and no money to pay for roads, Christie says he's reluctant to use state funds to pay for a transit tunnel. Not when there are so many other pressing infrastructure needs. "And if I can’t pay for it, then we’ll have to consider other options," he told reporters.

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Transportation Nation

Why Was the Trans-Hudson River Tunnel Halted?

Monday, September 13, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When the Newark Star Ledger reported yesterday that NJ Transit would be suspending activity on the so-called ARC tunnel (which stands for "access to the region's core") under the Hudson river, planners sat up in alarm.

The tunnel will allow NJ transit trains to effectively double their capacity into Manhattan, making transit an option for tens of thousands of NJ drivers, and bringing a steady stream of workers to midtown Manhattan ( Thirty Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, to be precise). There, they'll be able to take the 34th Street bus rapid transit, planned for 2012, to gain access to a major new Manhattan development site, the Hudson Yards, on the far West Side.

The $8.7 billion project is funded half the the Port Authority, half by NJ Transit (which gets a dedicated stream of funding from Garden State Parkway Tolls), and is getting $1 billion in funding from the federal stimulus bill.

It's the largest single infrastructure recipient of stimulus funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or ARRA, and is seen as crucial the the New York-New Jersey region's economic development.

But -- shock of shocks -- it may go over budget, and hence, as the Ledger reported it: " The month-long suspension of all new activity - imposed by NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein in the wake of concerns by the Federal Transit Administration - will be used to re-examine the budget numbers."

In the planning community today, there's an awful lot of head-scratching.  Did this really come from the FTA, and was the FTA legitimately concerned about costs?

If so, why? Other huge Manhattan infrastructure projects, like the Second Avenue Subway, have proceeded without full funding, the theory being that a significant infusion of funds to get a project going ends up drawing down more funds in future, by creating momentum around a project.

Does this signify that NJ Governor Chris Christie is backing away from ARC, or that he'd like to see the Garden State Parkway revenue go to other projects? Christie has been an opponent of raising the gas tax, and NJ's highway trust fund, like the federal government's is broke.

We're trying to sort this out...let us know what you're hearing.

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