The Breaking Point: Tunnel Trouble

A WCBS 880 Special Report Series By Alex Silverman

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — In late 2010, crews were literately digging when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shut down the ARC Tunnel project.

“I simply cannot responsibly allow this to go forward,” he announced. “I can’t imaging that in a world of ingenuity like we have in America, the ARC Tunnel is the only option to relive congestion.”

Phil Plotch used to be a planning manager at the MTA.

“There was a governor of New Jersey, named Chris Christie, who saw you’re not going to get a lot of national attention and — if you’re a Republican — a lot of national support by supporting transit infrastructure,” he says.

Then came Hurricane Sandy. The hundred-year-old tunnels that the ARC project would have replaced took a beating. 

“If we had another tunnel, you could take out the existing tunnel and run service in the new tunnel,” Plotch says.

But we don’t.

“I think in 10 years, there’s a high possibility, and in 20 years, there’s almost a guarantee that one of those tunnels would have to be taken out of service for major, major repairs,” says Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, which tries to do the long-term planning that often escapes politicians.

“That would have economic repercussion for the entire northeast. You would be able to see it on the economic scale of the United States,” he says.

No doubt you’ve heard about the current plan to replace those tunnels, and don’t forget about the bridge over the Hackensack River that could fall apart at any point.

The Breaking Point: Was It Inevitable?

“A bridge and a tunnel that were carrying passengers when the Titanic was still under construction,” says John Porcari, who’s leading the Gateway Project, which is actually much bigger than that — $27 billion in total – but the first phase is the critical one.

“It’s the most urgent infrastructure project in America,” Pocari says. “It replaces a single point of failure for 10 percent of America’s gross domestic product.”

When you think of it in that way, the $12.9 billion price tag might not sound so astronomical.

But the question is: How to pay for it.

Under the Obama administration, the handshake agreement was for the feds to pay for half and for New York and New Jersey to split the rest.

The Breaking Point: Pain At Penn

But now, that’s totally up in the air.

“No project of this magnitude can move forward without federal financial help,” Porcari says.

President Donald Trump’s budget eliminated funding for a grant program the project would have relied on. However, a House spending bill includes more that $900 million that could help get it started.

The bottom line is, it’s a much bigger question mark that it was before the election. In the meantime, the consequences of that 2010 stroke of Christie’s pen are coming into focus.

“I think New Jersey is already suffering in some degree in terms of a softer job market and real estate growth, because of that,” Wright says. “Everybody knows that link is at risk. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.”

So expect to hear more about disabled trains in the Hudson River tunnel. You know the routine if you ride the subway too.

But that’s for next time. Until then, safe travels.

Find more from “The Breaking Point” by clicking here.

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