New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who killed a commuter rail-tunnel project to Manhattan in 2010, said he has personally appealed to President Donald Trump to fund a new underground crossing after he proposed a federal budget that would eliminate crucial financing.
“I’ve already spoken to the president about this,” Christie, a 54-year-old Republican, told reporters Wednesday at Pennsylvania Station in Newark. “The president’s well aware of my point of view on this project, and I absolutely will continue to speak my mind on this both publicly and privately.”
Trump, a 70-year-old Republican with a family fortune rooted in New York City real estate, has called for $1 trillion in public and private spending on infrastructure. He has yet to specify which projects would be funded, though, and the budget blueprint he released last month eliminates the federal funding source that New York and New Jersey were counting on to cover half of the $23 billion in New York City-area rail improvements, including the Gateway tunnel.
The only passenger-rail access to Manhattan now is a century-old tunnel damaged by contaminated Hurricane Sandy floodwater in 2012. Amtrak, its owner, has warned that it has fewer than 20 years of serviceable use, and the failure of one or both of its tracks would bring the nation’s busiest train route, the Northeast Corridor, to a halt and strike a blow to the national economy.
In recent weeks, the region’s fragile rail infrastructure was tested three times, with two Amtrak derailments at Penn Station in New York and a powerless New Jersey Transit train stranded in the tunnel with 1,200 passengers aboard for three hours. Just today, service was delayed for 30 minutes during the morning commute because of a stalled New Jersey Transit train.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from Newark, called the Northeast Corridor “the carotid artery of the body of our nation,” strangled every time service stops. He and Christie said they were inviting U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to tour the rails, stations and tunnel to build a case for the federal government to uphold a funding commitment made during the Obama administration.
Christie in 2010 canceled another tunnel project, called Access to the Region’s Core, saying the design was flawed and New Jersey taxpayers would be on the hook for potential cost overruns. The late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat, called the decision among the biggest public-policy blunders in state history. That tunnel, to be in service in 2018, would have relieved the daily delays and crowding endured by New Jersey Transit commuters who rely on the service for jobs in New York City.
Booker declined today to answer reporters’ questions about the wisdom of that cancellation, given the recent breakdowns, saying, “That’s done. That’s history.” Booker also deflected ARC questions for the governor, saying good-naturedly, but firmly, that his political office outranks Christie’s.
“This is my press conference,” Booker said. “He’s not used to not running the show but this is one of the few paybacks.”