NJ Transit Reviews Returning Tunnel Cash

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — NJ Transit isn’t ready to cut a $271 million check to repay the federal government for the scrapped Hudson River rail tunnel, the agency’s executive director said Wednesday, two days after receiving a bill.

“We haven’t determined that we have to pay it back,” James Weinstein said. “We don’t believe it is as clear-cut as the FTA would make it appear. There’s a difference of opinions.”

Weinstein declined to go into detail about what issues NJ Transit disputes because he said the agency is reviewing the request and assessing its options.

The Federal Transit Administration on Monday sent the railroad the bill, not including interest and penalties, for the so-called Access to the Region’s Core project. It also said it was “deobligating” the remaining $79 million of the $350 million it made available to help get the project started.

The federal government had committed $3 billion to the project, along with another $3 billion from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The state’s share was $2.7 billion plus overruns.

The $8.7 billion project to construct a second rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York was 15 years in the making when Republican Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on Oct. 27, citing potential cost overruns. More than $600 million has already been spent on it for engineering, construction and environmental studies, Weinstein said.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, said taxpayers need to know how the Christie administration plans to pay the bill and whether canceling the tunnel “will mean potholes elsewhere will go unfilled.”

Assembly Republican Conference Leader Jon Bramnick suggested that the FTA’s request for the money back was politically motivated.

“The demand by the federal government for New Jersey to return the $271 million that was spent on the project is a political move to embarrass Gov. Christie,” he said.

Asked if he thought the FTA’s decision to send the bill so quickly was a political stunt, Weinstein shot down the suggestion immediately.

“They are serious about what they do, this is not about stunts,” he said.

Citing a Quinnipiac University poll on Tuesday in which voters gave the reformist governor a 51 to 38 percent approval rating, Bramnick said, ‘Governor Christie is respected both in New Jersey and around the nation because he opposes policies that have created a bloated government that people cannot afford. Such political maneuvers will only further bolster his popularity.”

A majority of New Jersey voters agree with Christie’s decision to stop construction of the tunnel, according to a poll released Wednesday.

In the Quinnipiac University poll, 53 percent support the governor’s decision, compared with 37 percent who disagree. Even commuters were split, with 50 percent backing Christie and 47 percent supporting the tunnel.

Amtrak and NJ Transit currently share a century-old, two-track tunnel under the river that has been at capacity for years. The killed project would have added two more tracks in a new tunnel.

(Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


One Comment

  1. bob previdi says:

    For answers to some questions Read: Conquering Gothem by jill Jones, Penquin Books, 2007. This a great story about how difficult it is to go under the Hudson River. Did you know the tunnels goes up and down six inches, twice a day because of the tides?

    The amount of engineering work that has to go into this is tremendous. Before you put a spoon in the ground, you need to know where it starts and ends – and that costs money.

    As for Jon Barmnick’s comment – he must be joking. It is Gov Christie who is playing the “politically motivated” game here. And if the Fed’s did not ask for the money back, what would the “R’s” do then?

    Of course you ask for the money back. And if it was spent already, well guess what – it needs to come out of the NJ Transportation trust fund.

    Maybe there were some things here that could have been fixed with this project, but you don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. This decision will come back to haunt both Christie and NJ unless Amtrak can come to the rescue and eliminate the new station under Macy’s and just connect it to the existing Penn Station.

  2. Chris says:

    What I don’t understand is, why this money wasn’t kept in an “escrow” account until the project broke ground. Did NJ already spend it? Is that why this is an issue?

  3. Andreas says:

    The real questions: Why does it cost 600 millions just to study a project? Why does it take 15 years to start digging a tunnel? Who is lining their pockets in the process.

    China would have got the job done in 16 months.

    We have lost the edge. This is just an illustration of how far behind we are getting.

    1. just a thougth says:

      Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if La Cosa Nostra had a hand in it. Political appointees are also famous for inefficient and slow (read not qualified) in getting projects started and then drag it out.

      That said, there’s a thing called long term planning. They knew that they were gonna need a second pair of tunnels across the Hudson to Penn Station. The projections were made back in the 90’s. Then 9/11 and the Dot Com bust came and the demand tanked. It also made security a priority.

      The $600 million was for engineering, construction and environmental studies. That includes multiple designs and studies for multiple alternatives. Think of it like designing not one but several projects simultaneously. 15 years also make it necessary to update previous designs and studies with new information and technologies. It also includes the construction that already complete or was in progress, as well as the TBM. It might also include the properties in NJ and Manhattan acquired for the project.

      China also can just forcibly relocate people, and they’re often building in the countryside or in areas with not as many existing old sensitive underground infrastructure. Then add in the fact that they easily can get low wage workers and low working conditions without OSHA or muckraking media showing up. They also don’t deal with environmental issues as much. EPA, DEP, ACE are all over toxic sediments. In China, nope. NIMBY is strong here. In the PRC, its starting, but still tiny, and can still get nipped by politically connected thugs and gangs.

  4. Mark says:

    Christie is an idiot. The tunnel is needed and it’s the kind of project that only gets done with government funding. Instead of saying no to education funding and no to needed public works projects he needs to find ways to say yes. He is an idiot. Oops I said that twice.

    1. patruns says:

      Only an idiot signs off on unknown cost over-runs. Do you handle your home finances this way? If I were a betting man, I bet Christie would sign off if the split was even and the feds had to make up any cost over-runs.

    2. JC says:

      While the federal government and Port Authority would’ve essentially matched NJ’s contribution dollar to dollar ($3 billion for NJ’s $2.7 billion), that would mean NJ would have to front $2.7 billion for a project that would only benefit ~185,000 rail commuters from NJ to NY. NJ has a population of over 8.5 million, most of whom would not benefit from the rail. Also, I believe that most public works projects take far longer and more money to complete than initial estimates (ie: Rt. 18 construction by Rutgers University) and NJ alone would have to bear this burden. With the state’s budget in its current condition it is better to play it safe and leave this project for a later date and instead focus on projects that will primarily benefit NJ and keep money in NJ. He is the governor of NJ afterall, not NY or any other state.

  5. Kevin says:

    Looks like Fat Boy has to give up some twinkies to pay this $$$ back, maybe he can blame the teachers for this to.

    1. Ryan says:

      You stay classy Kevin. I am sure the status qou of high taxes and out of control spending would work out just fine for you. As long as you get your check at the first of the month right? Step aside while the adults try and get some actual work done.

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