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E-mail Raises Questions About Tunnel Funding

Fri October 08, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Beth DeFalco

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) As early as March, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration may have been considering withholding the state’s $2.7 billion portion of money to pay for a new tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan, according to an e-mail and conversations from a high-level state Transportation Department official.

Recently, the governor ordered a 30-day halt to all new work on the tunnel over concerns that the $8.7 billion project would go over its budget and New Jersey would be forced to cover the overrun, which Christie said is now between $2 billion and $5 billion.

In an e-mail to a staffer for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who helped secure $3 billion in federal funding for the tunnel, David Kuhn, the executive director of capital investment strategy of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, called New Jersey a “critical commerce corridor” for the entire country but said the state shouldn’t be forced to pay for the tunnel, which is known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC).

“ARC is an important piece of the country’s economy and merits additional consideration as a project of national significance,” Kuhn wrote on March 30, according to a copy of the e-mail obtained by The Associated Press. “New Jersey should not be saddled with any of the cost of this project.”

Lautenberg spokesman Caley Gray said the staffer quickly called Kuhn to ask for clarification. Gray said Kuhn told the staffer that the Christie administration believed the federal government should pay for the project entirely.

The staffer asked Kuhn to double-check with other officials about those statements, and minutes later received a call from state Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson, according to Gray’s account of the conversations.

Gray said Simpson told the staffer that Kuhn had misspoke and that the administration fully supported the project. The staffer said Simpson then asked him to keep the conversations quiet so that no one got fired.

A week later, Christie sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood restating New Jersey’s $2.7 billion commitment to the project.

Requests to speak with Simpson and Kuhn were denied and DOT spokesman Joseph Dee said the department had no comment specifically on the e-mails or conversations.

However, Dee said it was “critically important to the Christie administration and to the taxpayers of New Jersey to determine if the ARC project can be built within budget.”

“The point of the administration’s 30-day review,” Dee said, “is to verify cost estimates and to ensure that all necessary controls are in place.”

The tunnel, scheduled to be completed in 2018, is the largest federal transportation project in the country and is expected to double train traffic in and out of New York City during peak commute times, from 23 to 48 trains. Officials have estimated it will create 6,000 construction jobs and add at least 40,000 new jobs after it is completed.

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