The Tunnel To Nowhere: Times Report Questions Gov. Christie's Decision To Scrap ARC Plan

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When Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey struck down the Access to the Region's Core (ARC) plan two years ago, he gained enormous praise from the Right for standing up to the Obama administration's demands. However, according to a report this morning from the New York Times, the decision to cut off Jersey's cash flow for ARC was statistically misguided by Christie.

Anyone who has traveled between Penn Station and New Jersey doesn't need to be told that the trains are at capacity. Limited to two century-old tunnels beneath the Hudson, Amtrak and Jersey trains share a stuffy route that expects to grow in traffic by 38 percent come 2030. The pressured rail is a major connection to the larger Amtrak/Jersey web of trains, which means the smallest delay anywhere can set off a chain reaction of trouble for many other cars. But these details never unsettled the Governor.

The plan, seemingly named by James Cameron, would have created an additional tunnel between Manhattan and Jersey, and, at the time, was the largest public works project in the country: a stimulant of thousands of jobs for the City and a relief for thousands of commuters.

As a candidate for governor, Christie was in full support of the ARC, a plan years in the making, and showed his support just four months before he brought it to the chopping block. Fueled by the Tea Party anti-spending fervor of 2010 right before the midterm elections, Christie jumped ship and left the Tri-State Area to drown.

To connect rhetoric to reality, here are a few of the talking points Christie used as well as their  counter-truths:

Christie: New Jersey would have been forced to pick up 70% of the total costs for the project.

Fact: New Jersey would have been forced to pick up 14.4% of the total costs for the project. The ARC was a joint venture between the federal government, the Port Authority (which is partially owned by New York City and New Jersey) and the state of New Jersey. 

How did Christie come to believe that his state would be the biggest payer? That prediction is more than 50% off its target and it had been known beforehand that the Obama administration would front 51% of the costs. 

Given, the GAO report did not take in account the split costs from the Port Authority's dual control and the curtailed federal/state stimulus funds that would've gone to the ARC's construction rather than roads leading to the ARC. But the latter is not technically lost money: wherever those funds are going, people are back at work, whether it's on the road or in a tunnel. In the end, these costs, according to Kate Zernike at the Times, result in a 65.5% share on Jersey's behalf.

Christie: The total cost of the ARC project would have been between $11 billion and $14 billion, a cost he believed would not have been fiscally possible for New Jersey residents.

Fact: Although the cost predictions swung like a pendulum before Christie's decision was made, state officials stated that it would be base lined at $8.7 billion and never cap $10 billion. If we apply the 14.4% share to these numbers, Jersey comes out with a price tag ranging from $1.25 billion to $1.44 billion. Coincidentally, Christie already has used $4 billion of the federal funds, a number that's more than twice of what the ARC would have cost, for another less innovative project: maintaining the state gas tax (second lowest in the nation) by funneling money into its trust fund. Thumbs up for Christie's spending preference.

Christie: The federal government, in a financing agreement, would have forced New Jersey to pay any of the costs that surpassed the baseline price-tag of $8 billion.

Fact: Although agreements like that are the norm for projects of this magnitude, that agreement never existed. On a worse note, the Department of Transportation told Gov. Christie that they had his back through coverage of additional costs and low interest rates. In other words, Jersey rejected a helping hand and labeled it "Big Government."

With these point-counterpoints in front of us, it is clear that the governor misconstrued the facts to create an argument that would please the Right and make him come out of it looking like a conservative warrior. Now, with the alternative 7 subway Hoboken plan apparently "not going to happen in our lifetime," the City is out thousands of new jobs and commuters are left at the turnstile.


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