Tunnel Vision

When Governor Christie decided that it was a bad idea to build a new rail tunnel underneath the Hudson River,

When Governor Christie decided that it was a bad idea to build a new rail tunnel underneath the Hudson River, he made it seem like the project figured to become the region’s answer to the Big Dig. That infamous federally funded highway-tunnel project in Boston was budgeted at $2.8 billion in 1982. The final cost was more than $14 billion in 2007.

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Mr. Christie insisted that the so-called ARC tunnel (as in Access to the Region’s Core) would cost billions more than the federal government’s estimate of about $8.7 billion, and that New Jersey would have to pay for 70 percent of the project’s cost. So he abruptly cancelled the state’s participation and effectively killed the idea of replacing the antiquated, century-old tunnel that Amtrak and New Jersey Transit currently use.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently released a report that indicates that the governor’s posturing was more about politics than it was about accountability. The GAO calculated that the new tunnel would have cost between $9.8 billion and $12.4 billion. Not exactly chump change, but less than Mr. Christie’s estimate of $14 billion or more. The GAO also found that New Jersey would have had to pay about 14 percent—not 70 percent—of the cost.

Mr. Christie’s position may have warmed the hearts of the tea party crowd, but as the federal report makes clear, the governor acted foolishly. The New York-New Jersey metropolitan region depends on efficient public transportation, so it is imperative that both states invest in projects like the ARC tunnel. As commuters know all too well, rail congestion under the Hudson is a daily occurrence. Thanks to Mr. Christie’s short-sighted position, things will not get better any time soon.

A century ago, builders, planners and politicians had the vision and foresight to link together the region with a fantastic array of tunnels, bridges, rail projects and—somewhat later—highways. A good deal of this infrastructure desperately needs replacement or renovations for the 21st century.

The ARC project would have been a step in the right direction. But politics, not planning, prevailed.

Tunnel Vision