Christie Stands by His Decision to Cancel Train Tunnel

April 11, 2012
By , The New York Times

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey defended on Tuesday his decision to cancel a train tunnel long planned to relieve increasing congestion across the Hudson River, saying it was a matter of principle.

Responding to a report by the Government Accountability Office that found he had overstated the cost of the tunnel to New Jersey, the governor also derided the tunnel plan, though he had said when he canceled the project in October 2010 that he believed in its merits. While the tunnel would have expanded the number of subway lines available to those who commute to Pennsylvania Station in New York City, he characterized it on Tuesday as a dead-end to a department store.

“So when they want to build a tunnel to the basement of Macy’s, and stick the New Jersey taxpayers with a bill of three-to-five billion dollars over — no matter how much the administration yells and screams, you have to say no,” he said in a speech at a conference on taxes and the economy in Manhattan held by the George W. Bush Institute.

“You have to look them right in the eye, no matter how much they try to vilify you for it, and you have to say no,” the governor told an audience that included Mr. Bush, Karl Rove and other prominent Republicans and business executives. “You have to be willing to say no to those things that compromise your principles.”

The tunnel would have doubled capacity for commuters on New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains, which now share two 100-year-old single track tunnels to cross the Hudson. The tracks are at capacity, and commuter demand is expected to rise 38 percent by 2030.

While the governor forcefully defended on Tuesday his decision to scrap the tunnel plan, he did not directly mention the report or address its specifics.

Mr. Christie said in 2010 that his steering committee for the project, known as ARC for Access to the Region’s Core, had told him that the tunnel would cost at least $11 billion and potentially more than $14 billion. But the report by the Government Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan Congressional investigative agency, found that New Jersey and federal officials had agreed that the costs would be from $9.5 billion to $12.4 billion. New Jersey Transit officials, who led the governor’s steering committee, said the tunnel would cost no more than $10 billion, the report found.

Mr. Christie also said in 2010 that the state would pay 70 percent of the cost; the report said the state’s share was 14.4 percent. And he said the federal government was requiring the state to pay any cost overruns; the report said that there was no final agreement, and that the federal government had offered to help pay with grants, loans and public-private partnerships.

The report prompted criticism of Mr. Christie from several New Jersey Democrats. Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, the chairman of the transportation committee and of the state’s Democratic Party, said the decision was “shortsighted and politically driven,” because the governor directed money from the tunnel to fill the state’s transportation trust fund, allowing him to keep a campaign promise not to raise the gasoline tax.

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