Governor Chris Christie’s decision to halt work on all projects funded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) led to a total cessation of work on nearly 100 construction and 200 design projects today. Governor Christie stopped the work in response to the Legislature’s reluctance to approve a $1.25 billion sale of bonds to refinance up to $500 million for the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).
Earlier today, after a hearing that lasted almost two hours, members of the State Joint Budget Oversight Committee and representatives of the Office of the Governor finally reached an agreement and those projects previously put on hold will continue tomorrow, allowing thousands of contractors to get back to work. Four of the six committee members voted to approve the sale, Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald (D-Camden), co-chairman, voted against the sale, while Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) abstained.
We have been forced to implement this work stoppage due to the Legislature’s failure to approve a routine bond transaction for the fifth and final year of a transportation program that was approved under the previous Administration. Because of the Legislature’s failure to act, thousands of engineers, planners, designers and construction workers will be put out of work and project schedules will be disrupted.
The stoppage stood to impact $1.7 billion of projects throughout New Jersey. In addition to the NJDOT construction projects and design projects, Local Aid county and municipal projects would have been affected as well. Projects funded solely with federal funds would not have been affected.
Although the NJDOT projects have been spared, the future of the ARC Tunnel project remains in limbo, pending the outcome of the review ordered by Governor Christie.
Background of the ARC Tunnel Project
Over the last two decades, New Jersey has focused intensely on how it can better meet the vastly growing demand for transportation to and from New York City. The situation was extensively studied by economists, geologists, planners, engineers, environmental and transportation experts, as well as government officials at the local, state, regional and federal levels. The collaboration of these great minds has resulted in a project known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Tunnel project. Construction on the ARC Tunnel, also known as the Hudson Tunnel, began last summer, and the project is currently the largest public works project in the nation. Just a few weeks ago, advocates of the project were alarmed when Governor Christie ordered a review of the ARC Tunnel’s cost over concern that it could cost more than the latest estimate of $8.7 billion. Supporters of the project feared that Governor Christie would stop the project entirely to divert funds to the TTF.
Benefits of the ARC Tunnel Project
The ARC Tunnel project is expected to greatly benefit New Jersey. A report entitled the ARC Effect, released by the Regional Plan Association in July 2010, elaborates on these expected benefits. According to Arthur D. Silber, Project Chief:
The RPA study highlights how the ARC tunnel will create wealth and grow our economy. The tunnel creates more than 6,000 jobs in the short term and [will] ultimately boost a soft real estate market by increasing home values by billions of dollars.
According to a Fact Sheet about the ARC Tunnel Project the project will run nine miles from Kearny Yards, New Jersey to 34th Street in Manhattan, effectively breaking the trans-Hudson traffic bottleneck. The project will offer direct, transfer-free service to Manhattan for tens of thousands of residents of New Jersey and New York. In addition, the project will increase intrastate service. Proponents of the tunnel believe that, “[t]he economic and environmental benefits make this a project that will grow our economy, preserve our quality of life, and improve the environment.” Some other benefits expected from the ARC Tunnel project include:
• 6,000 construction jobs
• Reduced traffic congestion
• Reduced pollution
• Shorter commuting times
• Increased suburban property values
We will continue to closely monitor both the situation with the Hudson Tunnel, as well as the status of state-funded construction projects in New Jersey, and will provide updates accordingly.