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N.J. Governor Kills Rail Tunnel Project

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The most expensive public works project in the country has been stopped in its tracks. Today, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, formally ordered the death of $8.7 billion train tunnel. It would have run under the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan.

From member station WNYC in New York, Andrea Bernstein has our story.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: The tunnel was supposed to shave 45 minutes off commutes. It would have doubled train capacity. It would ease congestion and vastly reduce carbon emissions. Construction started last year. But earlier this month, Christie said he was concerned New Jerseys portion of the cost would balloon. He ordered work to stop.

Governor CHRIST CHRISTIE (Republican, New Jersey): I simply cannot responsibly allow this to go forward. The state of New Jersey is broke.

BERNSTEIN: In a dramatic move, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, flew to Trenton to salvage the project. In New York a week later, LaHood said this:

Secretary RAY LaHOOD: (Department of Transportation: He and I agreed that over a two-week period, we would put together a plan for a path forward, and we will be meeting with him at the end of that two weeks and presenting the information.

But Christie has his own cause to present. Elected last year after promising to tighten New Jerseys belt and then doing so, Christie has become a star in the Republican Party. Here he is in a recent video made by the Newark Star Ledger telling what happened when he would ask for for new things as a child.

Gov. CHRISTIE: My mother would look at me and say, well of course, Christopher, you can have that. Just go in back, in the backyard, and take the money off the money tree.

BERNSTEIN: The federal government did try. It offered to kick in hundreds of millions of dollars on top of a $3 billon outlay, delay some costs and offer a loan. Last week, LaHood again met with Christie. Today Governor Christie made this announcement.

Gov. CHRISTIE: There comes a point where you just say I cant. I cant do it, and Im not going to do it.

Mr. BOB YARO (Regional Plan Association): I am astounded. Ive never seen anything like this. This is a project that was under construction.

BERNSTEIN: Thats Bob Yaro, of the nonprofit Regional Plan Association. Hed worked 20 years on the project and says its key to the regions growth.

Mr. YARO: Its a tragedy for the for New Jersey and for the metropolitan area and I think for the country.

BERNSTEIN: In an emailed statement, Secretary LaHood said he's disappointed in the decision and called it a, quote, "devastating blow to thousands of workers, millions of commuters and the states economic future." As for commuters...

Ms. NANCY THOMAS: Big mistake. You know, to sit in a tunnel all day long when theres an accident is not too much fun.

BERNSTEIN: Nancy Thomas was waiting for a train in Penn Station today. Her friend Eunice Dickerson interjected, pointing to New Jerseys high taxes.

Ms. EUNICE DICKERSON: And its okay to invest and if you know that you're going to be getting enough, but weve had our increases even this year with all the hard times that we're against. And you know what? If he has to stop it right now, then it has to be stopped right now.

BERNSTEIN: Christie says his decision is final, and there will be no further review.

For NPR News, Im Andrea Bernstein in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Bernstein
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