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NJ Faces Hefty Pricetag for Rail Tunnel, Transportation Projects

As part of the TTF plan, Christie promised to provide at least $1.4 billion in “pay as you go” financing out of state revenues, but so far he has relied almost entirely on new debt. He has ruled out an increase in the gas tax, which is the third-lowest in the nation, to pay for transportation projects, just as he has ruled out any state tax increase for any purpose.

Throughout her campaign, Buono has tried to remind New Jerseyans of the ARC tunnel cancellation. She said she would not have cancelled the tunnel, which was projected to generate 6,000 construction jobs and 40,000 permanent jobs in New Jersey municipalities near rail stations that would benefit from improved service to New York.

But Buono has not put forward any plan to fund a new rail tunnel or to renew the Transportation Trust Fund, and has not said how she would fund increased investments in transportation any more than the increased spending on higher education, universal preschool, and property tax relief programs she has promised.

And unlike Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the Legislature’s most ardent advocate of investing in New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure, Buono has not advocated an increase in the state’s gas tax to provide dedicated funding for transportation improvements -- not in the middle of a campaign in which Christie is already attacking her as a “tax and spend” liberal.

For the governor and 120 legislators who are elected November 5, coming up with a plan to pay for New Jersey’s share of a new rail passenger tunnel and simultaneously expand and repair the state’s highways, bridges. and mass transit capital projects will be one of the most difficult political decisions they will face.

And this time, there won’t be an easy way out, like there was three years ago when Christie “robbed Peter to pay Paul” by using billions of dollars originally earmarked for the ARC Tunnel to fund Transportation Trust Fund projects in New Jersey instead.

“We can’t be satisfied with a 19th Century infrastructure in a 21st Century world and expect to stay competitive in a high-tech, fast-paced, global economy,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) declared last month as Amtrak broke ground on the $185 million concrete casement that could handle up to 12 Amtrak trains and 20 New Jersey Transit trains an hour.

“For the growth of the entire region, it’s critical that we invest in new rail tunnels across the Hudson,” said Menendez, who has assumed the mantle of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) as the foremost advocate of a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel on Capitol Hill and has been working closely with both the Obama administration and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) to push the project.

Schumer expressed optimism that funding for the $13.5 billion project could be lined up in as little as two years, and Robins noted that “President Obama moved heaven and earth” to get the concrete casement built. The 800-foot-long tunnel box between 10th and 11th Avenues is being built large enough to accommodate two new rail tubes, and Obama allowed $185 million in superstorm Sandy relief funding to be used for the project because the Gateway Tunnel will be flood-resistant, unlike the Amtrak and NJ Transit tunnels that flooded during Sandy.

For mass transit advocates who warn that a new rail tunnel is needed if New Jersey Transit is to provide more direct one-seat rides to New York and to meet projected ridership growth, the last three years of the Obama administration “are an important window because President Obama is committed to this project, and Amtrak has no more dedicated supporter than Vice President Joe Biden,” Robins said.

Christie has made no commitment to the Gateway Tunnel project. However, he noted during a gubernatorial debate that he provided $250,000 for a feasibility study on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s idea of extending the City’s No. 7 subway line to Secaucus.

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