The tunnel to political prominence

April 10, 2012
NJ Gov. Chris Christie

A new government report shines the spotlight again on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, see here at a presidential campaign event for Republican candidate Mitt Romney on December 30, 2011. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

A new report on the controversy that helped launch New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to national prominence – and make him a vice-presidential contender – has reignited debate over one of the country’s most popular and polarizing Republicans.

A General Accounting Office report on Tuesday examined the impact of Christie’s decision in October 2010 to cancel a multibillion-dollar rail tunnel linking commuters in his state of New Jersey to midtown Manhattan.

Though the report didn’t reveal any secrets, it gave Christie’s supporters and opponents a new opportunity to define him: as either a maverick fiscal conservative fighting wasteful government, or as a political opportunist willing to trample working people for his political ends.

Christie backs Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney and is frequently mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate who could possibly move a Democratic-leaning state into the Republican column in November.

The $8.7 billion Hudson River tunnel project, also known as ARC, would have dug a new rail tunnel under the Hudson river, creating tens of thousands of jobs and meet growing demand for mass transit in the nation’s largest metropolitan area. New York, New Jersey and the U.S. government would have shared the costs.

But the potential for billions of dollars in cost overruns hung over the massive project, and New Jersey taxpayers would have been responsible for most of them.

Estimates varied for  much the tunnel would ultimately cost. Christie assumed the most costly estimate in the report to justify its cancellation – and rounded up from $13.7 billion to $14 billion. In short, after the report, the facts remained the same, as did the political spin.

New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a defender of the  project, led the anti-Christie attack for the Democrats: “The future of New Jersey’s commuters was sacrificed for the short term political needs of the governor,” he said.

Christie’s spokesman blamed Lautenberg for failing to come up with a better financing deal for New Jersey. The report supports what Christie said at the time, that the project “was a very, very bad deal for New Jersey,” said spokesman Michael Drewniak.

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