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Christie Mum On Axed Rail Project, Pushes For Gateway Project Funding

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Recent train disruptions in New York have focused attention on a rail tunnel project shut down by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 that would be nearing completion now.

As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, there was an unusual press conference held Wednesday, about the funding fight for desperately needed transportation projects in the Garden State.

There were some protestors with signs that read, ‘from bridges to tunnels, Christie is N.J.’s worst transit disaster.’

Reporters came armed with questions directed at Christie.

But it was a democrat who would typically be opposed to the republican governor’s policies that acted as a human shield when questions were lobbed at him.

“I know you said for Gov. Christie, but I’m going to answer because it’s my press conference,” Sen. Cory Booker said.

CBS2 was again tried to ask Chrisite about his contradiction on mass transit — cancelling the Arc Tunnel Project in 2010, and claiming to save tax payers money. Now, begging the federal government to fund the Gateway Project after multiple derailments at Penn Station, which left commuters outraged.

“That’s done, that’s history,” Booker said. “And I hate that I have to revisit that all the time,” Booker said.

“This is a better plan than that one before,” Christie said.

But he would take no questions.

“Again Gov. Christie is so uncomfortable right now because this is my press conference. I’m not letting him. He’s not used to not running the show,” Booker said.

Christie killed the original project over cost overrun concerns.

It would have added a second tunnel to augment the current, 110-year-old tunnel. 

The recent train derailments at Penn Station highlighted the need for major work to the area’s infrastructure. Half a million people travel through Penn Station each week.

As Christie spoke about the importance of new rail tunnels Wednesday, protests continued with signs that read “hypocrite,” and “resist Trump.”

“You know I’ve already spoken to the President about this,” Christie said. “So the President’s well aware of my point of view on this project.”

One protester believes Christie is to blame, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.

“He’s cut the very money that would have made a huge difference on a multitude of issues in our state,” she said.

Funding for the current Gateway tunnel project could be in jeopardy under President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget.

The $20 billion project rebuilds the portal bridge over the Hackensack River and adds two tunnels under the Hudson, allowing Amtrak to repair the existing tunnels damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

According to officials, the section carries around 450 Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT commuter trains daily.

“Without supporting the modernization and expansion of our system, the federal government would effectively stifle economic growth and lessen the quality of life in America’s most densely populated and economically productive region,” the Christie administration said in a statement Wednesday.

Christie and Booker say they’ve invited new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao for a visit.

“I absolutely will continue to speak my mind on this both publicly and privately,” Christie said.

In 2015, federal officials and Amtrak said they would be responsible for financing half of the project, while New York and New Jersey covered the rest.

CBS2 asked political analyst Jim McQueeny what he thought of the bizarre game played at the news conference, where two politicians called on the transportation secretary to visit New Jersey.

“Chris Christie’s poll rating are at 18 percent. He needs protecting,” he said.

The federal government had committed $3-billion for the Arc Tunnel Project, but nothing so far for the gateway plan.

“This tunnel thing has Christie looking like an arsonist with smokey fingers. He’s the one who killed the project, and now he’s the one who wants to come to the rescue,” McQueeny said.

Commuters who went through the aggravation of being stranded on the derailed train’s platform questioned why a push for more funding hasn’thappened sooner.

“He is trying to rewrite history,” New Jersey Working Families, Director, Analila Majia said.

Analila said she suspects there is another political motive for Christie to improve his dwindling image by helping to build a tunnel on his way out of office.

The governor would not answer questions as he was quickly ushered out of the news conference.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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