Access to the Region’s Core Officially Canceled

Gov. Christie has officially canceled the Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel between NYC and New Jersey, condemning commuters to the status quo of frequently delayed and unreliable train service, setting back efforts to relieve the Hudson River rail bottleneck by at least a generation, and forfeiting $6 billion in federal New Starts and Port Authority funding. In a statement, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said the decision was “a disinvestment in the state’s future” and that canceling the project instead of finding a way to contain cost overruns was the wrong decision.

The governor rejected several options to finance cost overruns and reduce project costs. USDOT offered the state a low-interest loan from the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, essentially a letter of credit that could be used to cover virtually all potential overruns. Another option was a public-private partnership that could assume some of the project risk. Finally, federal and NJ Transit officials identified $700 million in project elements which could be deferred or eliminated.

There was much at stake:

  • A faster, more reliable commute for NJ Transit rail riders.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less congested highways. The project was expected to lower emissions by 66,000 tons and take 22,000 cars off the road every year.
  • Higher property values for New Jerseyans living near rail stations, as well as the potential for increased transit-oriented development.
  • Other commuter rail projects like the long-discussed Middlesex-Ocean-Monmouth line, which are effectively precluded until the Hudson River bottleneck is relieved.

New Jersey will miss out on all of these.

The state still faces the challenge of replenishing its Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for most road, bridge, and transit projects. Christie administration officials have pointed out that canceling ARC would allow the state’s portion of project funding to be redirected to other projects. But at most this would only be enough to get the fund through a year or two, after which the state will be faced with a bankrupt transportation system yet again.

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