Christie Halts Train Tunnel, Citing Its Cost

The largest public transit project in the nation, a commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River to Manhattan, was halted on Thursday by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey because, he said, the state could not afford its share of the project’s rising cost.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Mandel Ngan | Getty Images
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Mr. Christie’s decision stunned other government officials and advocates of public transportation because work on the tunnel was under way and $3 billion of federal financing had already been arranged — more money than had been committed to any other transit project in America.

The governor, a Republican, said he decided to withdraw his support for the project on Thursday after hearing from state transportation officials that the project would cost at least $2.5 billion more than its original price of $8.7 billion. He said that New Jersey would have been responsible for the overrun and that he could not put the taxpayers of the state “on what would be a never-ending hook.” (New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman disagrees.)

In scrapping the project, Mr. Christie is forfeiting the $3 billion from the federal government and jeopardizing as much from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The state may also have to repay the federal government for its share of the $600 million that has already been spent on the tunnel.

The tunnel, which would have stretched under the Hudson from North Bergen, N.J., to a new station deep below 34th Street in Manhattan, was intended to double the number of trains that could enter the city from the west each day. The project’s planners said the additional trains would alleviate congestion on local roads, reduce pollution, help the growth of the region’s economy and raise property values for suburban homeowners.

The tunnel was also supposed to provide jobs for 6,000 construction workers just as some other big transit infrastructure projects in the city, like the Second Avenue subway, were winding down.

Instead, the contractors hired to dig the tunnel will soon start laying off workers.

“This was the project that I think everyone was counting on to revitalize the public-works sector,” said Denise M. Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York. “For construction workers that were counting on job opportunities, it’s a real blow to them.”

Mr. Christie admitted that the cancellation would be costly but he said it would be more prudent for the state to withdraw sooner rather than later. He said he also expected to be able to redirect the Port Authority’s $3 billion to other projects in the state, though he did not identify any.

When Mr. Christie told Ray LaHood, the federal transportation secretary, about his decision, Mr. LaHood demanded to meet with the governor to discuss the matter further. The two were scheduled to meet on Friday, but Mr. Christie gave no indication that he could be swayed.

Mr. Christie’s decision also packed a wallop for the elected officials and transit advocates who spent most of the last two decades cobbling together the design for the tunnel. Several of them criticized the governor for rushing to a judgment that they said would hamstring the region’s economy long into the future.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who had supported the project, said New York City did not have the money to help New Jersey pay for the overruns.

The tunnel was a project of New Jersey Transit. The Port Authority, which gets its money from tolls, committed $3 billion for the plan after allocating billions of dollars for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.

Just a month ago, Mr. Christie abruptly ordered a temporary halt to spending on the tunnel while state transportation officials reviewed its costs. The review found that the cost would probably exceed $11 billion and could be higher than $14 billion.

Some critics said they suspected that the governor had decided to divert the money in highway tolls that the state would have spent on the tunnel to road and bridge repairs. The state’s fund for such transportation improvements is nearly empty and the governor has ruled out raising the state’s gasoline tax to replenish it.

“Two decades or more in the planning and then 30 days or less to kill it,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a group that had advocated building the tunnel.

Ms. Slevin said Mr. Christie’s sudden turnabout was unprecedented. “We’ve seen delays on transit projects before,” she said, “but never when the financing was as solid as it was on this.”

The tunnel, known as Access to the Region’s Core, or the ARC tunnel, would have been used exclusively by New Jersey Transit, the state-run operator of commuter trains and buses. The agency’s trains have shared a two-track tunnel, nearly 100 years old, with Amtrak.

The tunnel was a pet project of Mr. Christie’s predecessor, Jon S. Corzine, and the state’s two senators, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. Those three Democrats were joined by some Republican legislators at a ground-breaking ceremony in North Bergen last year that was intended to demonstrate bipartisan support.

But it was left to Democrats like Mr. Lautenberg to criticize Mr. Christie for backing out of the project. “Killing the ARC tunnel will go down as one of the biggest public policy blunders in New Jersey’s history,” Mr. Lautenberg said. “Without increased transportation options into Manhattan, New Jersey’s economy will eventually be crippled.”

Mr. Christie said he was prepared for such criticism and charges that he had flip-flopped on his position about the tunnel. But he suggested that he had been misled about the true costs of the project and who would pay for it.

Then, reinforcing his reputation for audacity, the governor called on the senators who had secured the $3 billion in federal money for the tunnel to try again, for a less costly project.