Last month Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cancelled what was the largest public works project in America. Dubbed Access to the Region’s Core (or ARC), the project was to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River which would expand commuter rail service from the overcrowded trains in service now which use a 100 year old tunnel.
The project had been put on the drawing board about twenty years ago. In the last several years, cost estimates had been developed which had an unfortunate habit of increasing. The first estimate done in 2005, which was described as “ball-park” was $5 billion. The project started last year with an estimate of $7 billion which was increased by $1 billion for contingencies. The latest round of cost estimates conceded the possibility of the project going over that by another $4 billion. Still, the burden for funding the project was split between New Jersey, the New York Port Authority, and the Federal Government.
New Jersey is broke. Well, kinda. They are up to their ears in red ink, having accumulated $50 billion of debt in the two last decades. Christie is a Republican who is not entertaining any possibility of tax increases, instead he is using spending cuts to close a $10 billion deficit just last year. As soon as there was a hint that the ARC project might have cost overruns, he immediately sought to kill the project.
The project might have had a $4 billion overrun. But that might have happened over a ten year project timeline. New Jersey will have something on the order of $300 to $330 billion in tax revenue and $4.5 trillion GDP during that time. New Jersey’s Household Income is the second best in the nation. See? Kinda broke. This tunnel would have dramatically expanded rail service to the largest city in the country, had a positive impact on jobs and property values, while decreasing road congestion and gasoline consumption. But because the state “doesn’t have the money,” New Jerseyans will just have to suffer with congested trains and congested roads.
Christie the candidate was for the project, but the ongoing budget crisis in the state caused him to change his mind. In this regard, he is unlike the new wave of Republican governors. Here is John Kasich who just twelve hours after winning the Ohio Governorship said:
“Passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future,” the Republican said at his first news conference after Tuesday’s win over Gov. Ted Strickland. “That train is dead.”
He was referring to the $400 million federally subsidized project to restore passenger rail between Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, along the so-called 3-C corridor. Kasich has said it would be too costly to reactivate freight lines for passengers and that the trains would be too slow and underused.
And here’s what is happening in Wisconsin:
Preliminary work was halted Friday on Wisconsin’s plans for high-speed passenger train service between Milwaukee and Madison, officials said.
[Outgoing governor Jim] Doyle’s decision follows Tuesday’s election of Republican Scott Walker to become Wisconsin’s next governor. Walker campaigned against building a high-speed rail network, saying his priority would be to repair roads and bridges. He called the passenger rail project a waste of taxpayer money.
But thank goodness Meg Whitman failed in her gubernatorial bid. California has a large High Speed Rail project in the works. As she was on her way to spending $160 million on her campaign, here is what she had to say about the project in July:
“Meg believes the state cannot afford the costs associated with high-speed rail due to our current fiscal crisis,” campaign spokesperson Sarah Pompei told the Sacramento Bee.
The old saying goes, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Obviously, the GOP has turned that into “when all you have is an oil drill, everything looks like a car.” These Republicans scold others for thinking big about 21st Century transportation needs. Put your toys away kids, time now to be grown-ups. Christie shrugs his shoulders and begs his critics to tell him where the money for passenger rail is going to come from. Meanwhile he never bothers to ask where the oil is going to come from to move all those additional cars. Where are the emissions reductions going to come from to curb global warming? And where are the jobs going to come from to move us out of this stalled economy?