New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that he's standing by his decision to kill the nation's biggest public works project, a train tunnel connecting New Jersey to New York City.
Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party for his fearless budget-slashing, has argued that his cash-strapped state can't afford to pay for any overruns on the $9 billion-plus rail tunnel under the Hudson River. The state is on the hook for $2.7 billion plus overruns.
"In the end, my decision does not change," Christie said. "I cannot place upon the citizens of New Jersey an open-ended letter of credit, and that's what this project represents."
The federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are each contributing $3 billion.
The governor said he was given four financial options for salvaging the project, but he said no agreement could guarantee that New Jersey taxpayers would not pay more than $2.7 billion for the completed project.
Construction began last year on the tunnel, which has been in the works for 20 years. In September, Christie suspended work on the tunnel and ordered a cost review. He pulled the plug on the project two weeks ago but gave himself time to reconsider at the behest of federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The tunnel is intended to supplement a century-old two-track tunnel that has been at capacity for years, NJ Transit officials have said. It would double the capacity for NJ Transit commuter trains and Amtrak trains between Pennsylvania Station in New York and the city's populous New Jersey suburbs, part of a region that has some of the nation's longest commutes.
More than 625,000 people trek into Manhattan from New Jersey each work day, about 185,000 by rail, and even a minor derailment or delay translates into long stretches of waiting for trains to get to and from work.
On Monday, an eight-car train derailed outside Pennsylvania Station, snarling the evening commute for tens of thousands. No one was injured, but nine of the station's 21 tracks were affected, Amtrak spokesman Clifford Cole said.
Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff has said that the new tunnel will shorten rail trips in the region and reduce the need to transfer between trains, which he said can save several minutes.
Officials estimated it would provide 6,000 construction jobs immediately and as many as 40,000 jobs after its completion in 2018.
Some proponents of the tunnel believe Christie is motivated, in part, by wanting to divert the money to state projects. He has refused to raise the gas tax, among the lowest in the nation at 10.5 cents per gallon, to beef up the nearly broke state fund.
The governor has said the tunnel and state transportation needs are separate issues.
At least $1.25 billion becomes available for state projects with the tunnel's demise.
Assembly Transportation committee chairman John Wisniewski, who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party, called Christie's decision a "monumental failure of leadership."
"The governor was presented with several ways to solve his cost concerns, yet he obviously failed to give any of those options serious consideration because he had already made up his mind to cancel the project to take its funding and spend it elsewhere."
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