New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who condemned his constituents to decades more of gridlock and crowded train platforms by pulling the plug on a Hudson River tunnel in 2010, after construction had begun, said he might, hypothetically, revisit the project. But first voters have to elect him president.
He made the remarks in an interview with conservative radio host Larry Kudlow of WABC.
The reason I killed the ARC Tunnel was: the federal government was contributing to it, the state of New Jersey was contributing to it, and the state or city of New York was contributing nothing. And New Jersey was going to be responsible for every nickel of cost overruns. Which at that time was estimated to be 3-5 billion dollars in cost overruns.
We all watched the Big Dig in Boston. That's what we were looking for, is to be on the hook for cost overruns on a major transit project. It's a recipe for disaster.
If I'm president of the United States, I call a meeting between my secretary of transportation, the governor of New York, and the governor of New Jersey, and I say, "If we're all in this even Steven, if we're all going to put in an equal share, then let's go build these tunnels underneath the Hudson River and walk away as equals. We're all equal for the upfront costs, and we're all equal for the cost overruns."
Then everybody has an incentive for the project to run right, to run efficiently, because everybody's on the hook. Quite frankly, I said to Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg and Governor [David] Paterson at the time, I said, "Listen, guys, if you want this tunnel as badly as I do, then pony up some money." But they got a great deal from Jon Corzine, who negotiated—that master negotiator—you know, he said New Jersey will take on all the burden. Well, I am not going to put that on the taxpayers of New Jersey, nor should anybody expect us to, because New York benefits from this as well. Let's everybody get in the pool, Larry. Let's not put it all on the back of one state.
Here's the full interview.
Christie is one of 16 Republican presidential candidates. His comments come at the tail end of a week of massive NJ Transit delays caused by a failing power substation overhead wires, corroded over to decades of neglect by the state. In the late 2000s, transportation experts criticized the ARC Tunnel project for lacking a connection to Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal, but it would have doubled NJ Transit's peak capacity and was projected to result in the creation of 50,000 new jobs. Had work continued, it was supposed to be completed in 2017.
Christie's obstruction of the project helped him avoid raising New Jersey's gas tax by diverting $4 billion the Port Authority had allocated to the tunnel project to road repairs. Also, though it did little to endear him to millions of NJ Transit riders, it did inspire other Republican governors to claim the national spotlight by rejecting federal transportation money.
Just so we're clear on the facts: Christie lied about his reasons for killing the tunnel project. An audit by the federal Government Accountability Office later showed that, though Christie claimed New Jersey would pay 70 percent of the tunnel cost, the actual proportion was 14.4 percent. He also said estimated cost overruns had ballooned leading up to 2010, but the amount hadn't changed in two years, investigators found. And there was no agreement stating that New Jersey would be on the hook for all overruns. The move did, however, allow Christie to fill the gaping hole in the road repair budget without raising taxes on motorists, which he promised not to do in his campaign.
It's true that New York politicians didn't pledge money to the project. But it should be noted that the Port Authority is an opaque, bistate agency controlled by the governors of both New York and New Jersey. It is notorious for being used as their personal piggy banks, or as in the case of the famous George Washington Bridge lane closure in 2013, for exacting punishment on political foes.
In a separate statement, Christie blamed Amtrak for the recent symptoms of NJ Transit's longstanding problems.
"NJ Transit commuters were victimized by nearly an entire week of extreme delays and cancellations for one reason only: Amtrak’s indifference to New Jersey commuters and its abject neglect of the infrastructure that New Jersey and our entire region relies upon," he said.
Amtrak, incidentally, also suffers delays due to the bottleneck under the Hudson, and it is planning its own Hudson River tunnel now that ARC isn't happening, though start dates keep being pushed back. An environmental review for the Gateway Tunnel is underway, and Amtrak has consented to allow NJ Transit trains to run on the tunnel's tracks, increasing the public service's capacity into New York by 75 percent.