Gov. Chris Christie's office on Friday announced that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had confirmed that the ARC commuter rail tunnel project is over budget. And the new estimated cost ranges from $9.775 billion to $12.708 billion, Michael Drewniak, the governor‘s press secretary announced.
Drewniak said that in August, federal transportation officials provided NJ Transit with cost estimates for the project ranging from $10.88 billion to $13.7 billion. He said both the August and the currently revised ranges of estimated costs do not include the $775 million New Jersey expense of building a new bridge across the Hackensack River to link the Northeast Corridor line to the tunnel.
"Therefore, based on today's confirmation from Secretary LaHood, the total project cost ranges from $10.55 billion to $13.475 billion (based on the August federal data, total project cost ranged from $11.665 billion to $14.475 billion)." Drewniak said
"The hurdle remains unchanged," Drewniak said. "Governor Christie continues to recognize the need and advantages of expanding rail capacity between New Jersey and New York. But as Governor Christie has repeatedly stated, he is not willing to saddle New Jersey taxpayers with a public works project with such a large, indeterminate cost overrun projection with no way to fund it.
"Critics who seem to be using the moment for political advantage need to answer the question that remains today and was brought into focus by Secretary LaHood: how would they pay for potentially billions of dollars in cost overruns?"
Drewniak confirmed earlier in the day that Christie intends to spend the weekend considering the future of the tunnel project, Democratic legislative leaders on Friday were demanding that he order construction to resume immediately.
New Jerseyans following the issue thought Christie might announce a decision on Friday, the end of a two-week-long reconsideration period agreed to with LaHood, but Drewniak said, "There never was a "deadline" for an announcement, and none will be coming today.
"The governor has only ever said that he expects today — the end of the two-week period agreed to by him and Ray LaHood — to get a report from Jim Weinstein of NJ Transit on recommendations, conclusions from the federal and state working group," Drewniak said. "The governor will consider that through at least the weekend. He'll also consult with individuals as he feels necessary. We will let everyone know of any public announcement as soon as we schedule one. If anything changes, we'll advise."
Christie is concerned the final cost of the tunnel, initially set at $8.7 billion, could rise to $2.3 billion to $5.3 billion more. He shutdown the project on Oct. 7 and only after LaHood met with him at the Statehouse did he agree to a two-week review of potential costs.
The nine-mile-long tunnel, which was under construction, would extend from the western slope of North Bergen under the Hudson River to 34th Street in midtown. It was expected to be finished in 2018. At least $600 million has already been spend. Proponents of the project warn the state could lose $3 billion in federal transportation aid if work does not resume.
Assembly Transportation Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) a strong critic of the shutdown, said of Christie's plan to take the weekend to consider the tunnel's future, "The governor's 30-day hold and two-week delay have been bad enough. There is no need to prolong this any further. Leadership means knowing when to admit your mistakes. The governor needs to do the right thing, fix his mistake and immediately restart this vital transportation project."
Wisniewski added, "The governor has already unnecessarily pushed workers into unemployment with this delay. These are real lives he's disrupting and New Jersey's transportation and economic future he's endangering. It's time for this to stop. The governor has been unable to prove his inflated cost estimates, and news reports now indicate he's always known his inflated estimates to be incorrect. The time is now to put an end to this sideshow and get this project moving again. It's too important to our future to be toyed with as the governor has been doing."
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-Union) was also critical. "Governor. Christie needs to stop fiddling and get this project moving again for the benefit of New Jersey. We already have good reason to believe the governor has been lying about the cost of this project. We found no proof of his cost estimates in the documents provided by our records request and we know the governor was fully aware his cost estimates were false.'
Citing two sources close to the project, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported late Thursday that Christie has known since his meeting with LaHood two weeks that a federal estimate showed a potential cost overrun of as low as $1 billion.
The Star-ledger reported that Christie is considering the $800 million cost of a new rail bridge over the Hackensack River as part of the project cost. Federal officials consider the bridge and tunnel as separate projects.
Including the cost of the bridge, the estimate LaHood gave Christie was $10.6 billion to $13.5 billion, the Star-Ledger reported.