Reporting Christine Sloan
TRENTON, NJ (CBS 2/WCBS 880/1010 WINS) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed a decades-in-the-making train tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan, saying Thursday that the state can’t afford to pay for cost overruns on the already under-construction project.
A day after saying he had not made a decision about pulling the plug on the ARC Tunnel, Gov. Christie put the brakes on the project, which would have allowed New Jersey Transit to run more trains into Manhattan.
The governor appointed a panel to look into what the tunnel would cost.
“They came to me with their final numbers, and their recommendation,” Christie told CBS 2′s Christine Sloan.
LISTEN: WCBS 880′s Levon Putney with Sen. Robert Menendez
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports on Sen. Lautenberg’s reaction
LISTEN: Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran talks with WCBS 880 on how ending the ARC project will affect New Jerseyans
While Democrats give an $8.7 billion figure to the project, Christie said his panel found the state would have to spend as much as $5 billion more, despite the federal government’s commitment of $3 billion.
“I simply cannot put the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey on what would be a never-ending hook,” Christie said.
Commuters have been quick to drive their concerns across on the death of a project that could have created hundreds of jobs in construction and made commuting easier.
“They should be able to find the money somewhere,” Garwood resident Rick Price said.
“That’s bad. I’m a college student, I have an internship in New York, I have to come back from New York all the way to Wayne because I go to William Paterson University, and I need those trains,” commuter Shariese Katrell said.
The contractor for the project also weighed in on the decision and talked to WCBS 880.
“The investment in this new tunnel was a basically once in a lifetime opportunity to improve transportation for New Jersey residents,” Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York, said.
“We’re very saddened by the governor’s decision and we understand that he wanted to look at the cost implications of the project,” Richardson said, “we think that it would have been better if both sides had more of an opportunity to present their concerns and to reach a consensus on how the project should go forward rather than just cancel it.”
Democrats who pushed for the tunnel say New Jersey will now have to pay back the federal government the $600 million it has already spent on the first phase of the project.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg blasted Christie’s cancellation of the project as “one of the biggest policy blunders in New Jersey’s history.”
“Without increased transportation options into Manhattan, New Jersey’s economy will eventually be crippled,” said Lautenberg, who held a news conference outside Newark’s Penn Station to criticize the decision. Lautenberg helped secure federal funding for the project.
Lautenberg acknowledged that cost overruns on a project of the tunnel’s size were inevitable, but said Christie’s numbers are inflated.
“Now New Jersey has a tunnel to nowhere,” State Assemblyman John Wisniewski said.
Democrats claim the Republican governor cancelled the ARC project so he could spend the money the state committed to the tunnel for the transportation trust fund. They also question Christie’s numbers.
“This report, three pages, has no data to it,” Wisniewski said. “This is the three pages that cost New Jersey $6 billion today.”
“We should demand – if not possibly subpoena – records,” State Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan said.
The governor questioned the hole Democrats say the state is now in, and said he’s not about to spend billions to save $600 million. In fact, he said New Jersey’s Democratic senators should spend their time finding ways to redirect the federal money toward other projects.
Governor Christie also questioned why New York City wouldn’t contribute money toward the tunnel, since the city would have benefitted from it. Mayor Bloomberg said earlier this week that he supported the tunnel, but that the city couldn’t help pay for it.