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Rail tunnel between NY, NJ in jeopardy

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BILL RADKE: New Jersey might pull the plug on an $8.7 billion commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Governor Chris Christie is feeling the budgetary pressure. He says the tunnel is running over budget and he needs that money for roads. Unfortunately, that’s a taste of what’s to come for states around the country.

From WNYC in New York, Andrea Bernstein reports.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: It was a beautiful day in June 2009, and scores of officials and laborers gathered for a groundbreaking at a construction site near Hoboken, N.J.

JON CORZINE: To say I’m excited today would be an understatement.

That was the former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. He wanted to build a tunnel to double transit capacity from New Jersey to New York. He put up $2.7 billion dollars — $3 billion would come from the federal government.

Here’s Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, at that groundbreaking.

PETER ROGOFF: That $3.0 billion commitment will be the largest commitment made to any transit project anywhere in the United States by the Department of Transportation, in the history of the U.S Department of Transportation.

But Democratic Governor Corzine was replaced last November by Republican Chris Christie, a fiscal conservative. Last month, Christie stopped new construction on the project, citing what he feared would be a multi-billion cost overrun.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: And New Jersey is broke.

Christie is out campaigning for fellow Republicans in the Midwest this week. In Chicago yesterday, he said New Jersey can’t afford to spend more.

CHRISTIE: And the federal government has made it clear New Jersey will be on the hook for any cost overruns on the project.

Planners like Tom Wright, who have worked for decades on this project, say they’re heartbroken by the prospect of its demise. Wright is the executive director of the Regional Plan Association. He says there are already a quarter of a million commuters a day from New Jersey to New York.

TOM WRIGHT: Without increasing the capacity in the transit system, that number just can’t go up much higher. There’s no more space on the roads and the bridges and the tunnels.

Governor Christie’s official word on the future of the tunnel could come as early as today.

In New York, I’m Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.

RADKE: Andrea’s story is part of the public radio project “Transportation Nation.” You can see what New Jersey’s tunnel might have looked like — it was gonna be spiffy.

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