It was the shot heard ’round the Hudson, the anti-spending measure that arguably made New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a national conservative star: Killing the ARC Tunnel.
The move was unprecedented, reversing decades of Robert Moses-inspired shovels-in-the-ground unstoppability for public works. And now it appears to have been little more than a political gambit. The Times has gotten a copy of a new Government Accountability Office report showing that Governor Christie grossly exaggerated the costs his state would bear if it went ahead with the multi-billion project to create a new rail connection between Manhattan and Secaucus.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, to be released this week, found that while Mr. Christie said that state transportation officials had revised cost estimates for the tunnel to at least $11 billion and potentially more than $14 billion, the range of estimates had in fact remained unchanged in the two years before he announced in 2010 that he was shutting down the project. And state transportation officials, the report says, had said the cost would be no more than $10 billion.
Mr. Christie also misstated New Jersey’s share of the costs: he said the state would pay 70 percent of the project; the report found that New Jersey was paying 14.4 percent. And while the governor said that an agreement with the federal government would require the state to pay all cost overruns, the report found that there was no final agreement, and that the federal government had made several offers to share those costs.
The governor’s office said the report supports its case for cancelling what was once the largest public infrastructure project in the country, even now as it admits for the first time that its calculations included work done by the Port Authority, the bi-state agency whose primary job it is to undertake exactly these sorts of projects. Supporters of the project were less sanguine, of course.
“The bottom line is that the G.A.O. report simply bears out what we said in the fall of 2010 and say to this day: the ARC project was a very, very bad deal for New Jersey,” he added, using the acronym for the project, known as Access to the Region’s Core.
Martin E. Robins, the founding director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University and an early director of the ARC project, criticized the governor. “In hindsight, it’s apparent that he had a highly important political objective: to cannibalize the project so he could find an alternate way of keeping the transportation trust fund program moving, and he went ahead and did it,” he said.
Options for creating a new connection are dwindling. Last week, MTA chief Joe Lhota shot down a proposal to connect the 7-Train with Secaucus that had been floated by the Bloomberg administration. That leaves only a proposal from Amtrak, part of a high-speed rail program, that is still decades away. It will not even begin before ARC was expected to be completed.