N.J. governor halts under-construction Hudson River train tunnel project

By Angela Delli Santi
Friday, October 8, 2010; A7

TRENTON, N.J. - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on a decades-in-the-making train tunnel connecting his state and Manhattan, saying Thursday that the state can't afford to pay for cost overruns on the already under-construction project.

More than a half-billion dollars has been spent on the tunnel, and construction began last year. The country's largest federal transportation project, it was expected to double peak train traffic in and out of New York once completed in 2018.

NJ Transit and Amtrak share a century-old, two-track tunnel beneath the Hudson River. The new tunnel would add two more tracks, more than doubling the number of NJ Transit trains that could pass under the river.

But the cost for the project has about doubled over the years.

It started at $5 billion in 2005 and grew to $8.7 billion by 2008. Recently, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff made public statements that put the price tag between $9 billion and $10 billion. On Thursday, Christie (R) said his advisers put the costs at $11 billion to $14 billion.

"The bottom line is this, New Jersey has gone for too long and for too many decades ordering things that they can't pay for," Christie said at a news conference. "This project has some flaws to it, but in the end, this is a financial decision. When weighing all the interests, I simply cannot put the taxpayers of the State of New Jersey on what would be a never-ending hook."

New Jersey had committed $2.7 billion to the tunnel. The federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey each pledged $3 billion.

A month ago, the governor ordered a 30-day halt to all work on the tunnel over concerns that it would go over budget.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood plans to meet Friday with Christie to "discuss a path forward" on the tunnel project, LaHood spokeswoman Olivia Alair said in an e-mail.

Proponents of the project assailed the governor's decision as shortsighted and wrong-headed.

During his gubernatorial campaign last year, Christie supported the project.

But as soon as he announced the work stoppage, lawmakers and transportation officials suggested that Christie had planned to scrap the project and to use the state's share to pay for the nearly broke Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for local road projects and rail repairs.

Christie has refused to raise the state's gas tax, which is among the lowest in the country, to replenish the fund.

- Associated Press

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