TRENTON, N.J. (AP/1010 WINS/CBS 2/WCBS 880) — Gov. Chris Christie pulled back Friday on his decision to cancel plans for a nearly $9 billion rail tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan, agreeing after meeting with the U.S. transportation secretary to hear other options for one of the nation’s largest public works projects.
Secretary Ray LaHood met with Christie for nearly an hour at the New Jersey Statehouse a day after the governor decided scrap the project dubbed Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC, a move he said was aimed to protect the long-range financial interests of state taxpayers.
“Gov. Christie and I had a good discussion this afternoon, during which I presented a number of options for continuing the ARC tunnel project,” LaHood said. “We agreed to put together a small working group from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the office of New Jersey Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein that will review these options.”
The team will report back to the Republican governor, a rising star within his party for assuming the mantle of protector of taxpayer money, within two weeks.
Christie’s spokeswoman, Maria Comella, said that the wind-down on the project wind down would continue. The governor still expressed his concern over the price tag for the project, 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reported.
“The fact that the ARC project is not financially viable and is expected to dramatically exceed its current budget remains unchanged,” Christie said in a statement. He added, though, that LaHood “presented several options to potentially salvage a trans-Hudson tunnel project.”
CBS 2’s Lou Young reported canceling the project would cost New Jersey billions in federal aid and trigger construction layoffs and possibly prompt federal officials to ask for a refund of some of the $600 million already spent on the project.
Democrats on both sides of the Hudson saw the popular Republican governor as vulnerable and pressured.
“The governor agreed to come to the table so they could discuss things,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg said, “good judgment finally prevailed.”
“I think it’s a critical project, I think it’s important to New York and I think it would be a mistake to stop the project,” gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo said.
N.J. state Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski spoke to WCBS 880 and said if the project was stopped now, it would be quite some time before it could be revived again.
“The tunnel that’s being talked about is not something that started last week or last year, it’s a project that’s been talked about, negotiated for over a year,” Wisniewski said, “if this project is ended…it will literally be another generation before we’re even putting shovels in the ground.”
The tunnel was expected to double train traffic in and out of New York City during peak commute times once completed in 2018.
But over the years, cost projections also have nearly doubled.
It started at $5 billion in 2005 and grew to $8.7 billion by 2008. In recent months, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff has made public statements that put the price tag at $9 billion to $10 billion. Christie had said Thursday that 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,” he 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.”
A month ago, the Republican governor ordered a 30-day halt to all work on the tunnel over concerns that it would go over budget. On Thursday, he directed state transportation officials to explore other approaches to modernize and expand rail capacity into New York.
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