Chris Christie on expensive new tunnel/boondoggle: Sorry, we're broke

Via Cubachi, alternate headline: “Tomorrow’s Glenn Beck ‘Chris Christie porn’ today!” The quick and dirty background: New Jersey’s been plotting a new commuter train tunnel into Manhattan literally for decades and Christie had a crazy hunch that it might run over budget. So he asked a committee to study the problem, and what do you know:

“I have made a pledge to the people of New Jersey that on my watch I will not allow taxpayers to fund projects that run over budget with no clear way of how these costs will be paid for,” said the governor. “Considering the unprecedented fiscal and economic climate our State is facing, it is completely unthinkable to borrow more money and leave taxpayers responsible for billions in cost overruns…

Christie called a 30-day temporary halt in September on new tunnel construction, as behind-the-scenes cost projections suggested the tunnel project costs would swell more than $1 billion above the $8.7 [billion] proposed price tag. He said he didn’t want the New Jersey version of Boston’s “Big Dig” — a tunnel mega-project that saw the final tally climb to nearly ten times the original $2.8 billion estimate.

At the same time, the governor was confronted with the state’s nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for road and bridge repairs and transit services. Christie had vowed not to increase the gas tax to pay for the fund, saying that drivers already had to contend with New Jersey Turnpike toll hikes and state residents already have been taxed too much, and there has been growing speculation that Christie will shift the state’s share of the tunnel project into the trust fund…

Proponents said the project would have created 6,000 construction-related jobs annually and close to 45,000 permanent jobs once completed. It would have provided one-seat rides to Manhattan, gotten 22,000 cars off the roads every day and eliminated nearly 70,000 tons of greenhouse gasses gases every year, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said.

In other words, this is New Jersey’s version of the stimulus debate. Spend money to make money by goosing the economy or cut costs to put the government’s fiscal house in order? As you might expect, Paul Krugman’s simply heartbroken over the whole thing and would much prefer a gasoline tax to fund the tunnel. To which I say, why not put it to a popular referendum? Let Jerseyites decide if they’d like to pay more at the pump to fund an infrastructure project that’s already a cool bil over budget and sure to spiral onwards and upwards. The pro-tunnel side has a decent argument, and Jersey’s gas tax is already among the lowest in the nation. Maybe voters will suck it up. The anti-tunnel “Big Dig” ads alone would be worth the price of the campaign.

Jazz Shaw May 16, 2022 12:41 PM ET