Donald Trump

Christie Defends Killing Tunnel Project He Says ‘Stunk'

Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is defending his decision to discontinue a project to build a rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York.

Christie's 2010 decision has come under fire recently as New York's Penn Station has been the site of two train derailments and other major delays in recent weeks, affecting Northeast Corridor commuters.

On Wednesday, Christie didn't answer questions on the topic at a news conference headed by Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.

In Atlantic City on Thursday, Christie said the shelved tunnel project wouldn't have been completed by now anyway.

He says a new tunnel project he supports is far superior and the previous project "stunk" because the cost wasn't shared by New York state or New York City and trains wouldn't have terminated in Penn Station

Recent train disruptions in New York that caused cascading delays between Boston and Washington, D.C., have refocused attention on a multibillion-dollar tunnel project that could have ameliorated future problems if it hadn't been canceled by Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2010.

Whether Christie feels any pangs of remorse over the decision was left unanswered Wednesday at a news conference to urge President Donald Trump's administration to honor a pre-existing commitment to fund a new tunnel project.

Peppered with questions about the discontinued tunnel project, dubbed Access to the Region's Core, or ARC, Christie stood silently as Democratic Sen. Cory Booker bristled at suggestions commuters were paying now for Christie's decision seven years ago.

"That's done. That's history," Booker said. "I don't have time to waste looking backward. I want to fix this problem, and we have a workable plan to fix this problem. What we need now is a commitment from this administration that it will continue to work with this plan."

The ARC tunnel would be nearing completion if Christie hadn't pulled the plug on it over concerns New Jersey taxpayers would be responsible for cost overruns he estimated at several billion dollars. A report by the federal Government Accountability Office later disputed those numbers as well as Christie's assessment of New Jersey's percentage of the overall project cost.

The existing, 110-year-old tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York City is a source of regular delays due to overhead wire problems. It also suffered severe saltwater damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 which Amtrak, its owner, has said will eventually force a shutdown for repairs.

Rail problems have been plaguing Penn Station in the last month: an Amtrak train derailed there weeks ago, and an NJ Transit derailment two weeks ago shut down eight of 21 tracks there and disrupted travel in the region for days. 

And last week, a NJ Transit train lost power and got stuck in a Hudson River tunnel with 1,200 people aboard. In the jam-packed station, a stampede ensued when police used a Taser to subdue a man causing a disturbance.

Then on Wednesday, a disabled train caused delays at Penn Station. 

While a second tunnel wouldn't prevent similar derailments, experts said it could lessen the fallout by giving trains more options to move in and out of the station.

The new tunnel project, part of Amtrak's Gateway plan to expand Penn Station and make other infrastructure improvements in the region, was approved for fast-tracked environmental permitting and in line for billions in federal grants under President Barack Obama.

But Trump's proposed federal budget would only provide those grants to projects that have advanced to the final contract stage, potentially jeopardizing Gateway.

Christie, a longtime friend of Trump, said he has already broached the subject with the president.

"I've already spoken to the president about this, the president is well aware of my views on this project," he said. "I absolutely will continue to speak my mind on this, both publicly and privately."

Christie and Booker said they've invited U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to tour the region's rails.

"Is the federal government going to meet its obligations to make sure we don't have crisis in this region?" Booker asked. "All of us should be calling on the administration to follow through."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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