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Tunnel Vision

The largest public transit project in the nation—which was earmarked to receive the largest single allocation of federal stimulus dollars—apparently has been killed by a slash from the relentless budget-cutting sword wielded by New Jersey’s governor.

Gov. Chris Christie abruptly announced this week that New Jersey is pulling out of an $8.7-billion project to construct a second rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Ground already had been broken for the rail tunnel and more than $3 billion in federal financing (with an additional $2 billion from the Port Authority of NY/NJ) had been arranged. More than 6,000 construction jobs were in the process of being filled for the shovel-ready project.

The rail tunnel has been in the planning stages for decades as an alternative route into New York City for NJ Transit’s northern rail hub, which serves the most densely populated region of the United States. The Garden State’s commuter rail giant currently relies on two tracks that travel across the Hudson through a single, century-old tunnel which rapidly is approaching its capacity limit.

After learning that original estimates for the rail tunnel project had ballooned by at least $2.5 billion, Gov. Christie said New Jersey could not afford its one-third share of the project’s cost. The decision shocked federal officials, who viewed the tunnel project as a crown jewel of the federal stimulus program. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is seeking an emergency meeting with Christie to try to get the governor to reverse course.

The state’s portion of the rail tunnel funds reportedly will be reallocated to fill a yawning deficit in NJ’s highway and bridge repair fund. Despite slashing New Jersey’s bloated state budget by nearly $3 billion since taking office in January, Gov. Christie recently discovered that the state’s dedicated fund for bridge repair and roadwork has run out of money after years of underfunding by the state Legislature. The governor previously indicated that an increase in the state tax on gasoline, currently one of the lowest in the nation, is not an option to close the fiscal gap.

We give Gov. Christie kudos for boldness. Let’s face it, it’s not every day that a state chief executive turns down more than $5 billion in ready cash from the Feds and a regional agency.

We will reserve judgment on the wisdom of Gov. Christie’s decision. There are some nagging questions about the long-term impact of this action, and a few doomsayers are imagining a worst-case scenario that might confront future rail commuters in the Garden State. It goes like this:

The year is 2030. There are now 14 million people living in New Jersey. Because the price of gasoline is now $5.25 per gallon and New York City recently banned all vehicular traffic, the only way for northern New Jersey’s 4 million daily commuters to enter NYC is by train. Unfortunately, the now 120-year-old rail tunnel under the Hudson has been closed indefinitely for repairs. The NTSB declared the tunnel unsafe for use after the derailment of 2028, which killed 15 people. The terrorist bombing of 2029, which blew apart an entrance to the tunnel, caused another $6 billion in damage. NJ Transit, which was privatized in 2017 and is just emerging from its 2025 bankruptcy filing, still is trying to raise funds to repair the damage to the track caused by the derailment. New York City Mayor Rudolph Bloomberg (grandson of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and son of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s son, Andrew) estimates the economic impact to NYC of a prolonged Hudson rail tunnel shutdown at $134 million per day. The estimated cost of replacing the aging tunnel recently topped $45 billion. Lin Yaopang, president of the Chinese-American International Monetary Fund World Bank, who recently suspended the United States’ budgetary line of credit due to a default on a $2-trillion interest payment, said an emergency appropriation for a new Hudson tunnel is “out of the question” until the $500-billion Amazon high-speed rail corridor is completed in 2038……

 

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