The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Thursday moved forward with a freight-rail expansion program while offering little information on the future of a new passenger-rail tunnel that would run between New Jersey and Manhattan.

Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni declined to say what his conversations with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have been regarding the $8.7 billion tunnel, called the Access to the Region’s Core. Christie, who appointed Baroni to the bi-state agency, is expected to announce Friday whether the project will move forward.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood two weeks ago urged Christie to review the ARC tunnel development after the governor terminated the project over estimated cost overruns of $2 billion to $5 billion.

“That process is ongoing and both Gov. Christie and Secretary La Hood asked that that process remain not in the public and it’s going to remain that way,” Baroni told reporters Thursday after a Port Authority board meeting.

Christie has said that New Jersey cannot take on the additional ARC tunnel expresses. The state committed $2.7 billion towards the mass-transit project while the Port Authority and the federal government have pledged $3 billion each.

If Christie terminates the tunnel project, it is not clear if the authority would direct its $3 billion share towards infrastructure projects related to New Jersey. 

“Any revenue at the Port Authority always goes to the mission of the Port Authority and I’ll leave it at that,” Baroni said.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, Thursday said Christie’s estimates of cost overruns for the ARC tunnel are an exaggeration. Wisniewski reviewed the administration’s documents on the decision to halt the passenger-rail tunnel and said that information shows the project is on budget at $8.7 billion.

“The documents provided by the governor’s own administration fail to provide any justification for the governor’s claim of billions in cost overruns on the tunnel project,” he said in a statement. “That claim seems as though it was simply pulled out of thin air by the governor. The governor is risking New Jersey’s economic future with numbers that, at least according to these documents, have no basis in reality.”

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an e-mail that Wisniewski does not have access to all of the documents, which will be forthcoming. He pointed to a cover letter attached to the documents that Wisniewski received that describe the information as “the first production of documents” and that “additional productions will continue on a rolling basis.”

The Federal Transit Administration Thursday declined to verify the estimated ARC tunnel cost overruns of $2 billion to $5 billion.

If completed, the ARC Tunnel would double New Jersey Transit’s capacity through the Hudson River and create at least 6,000 construction jobs. Proponents are touting studies that indicate that the ARC tunnel would reduce commuting time by up to 30 minutes for some New Jersey residents and increase property values in the Garden State.

The Port Authority Thursday approved $3 million of funds to begin preliminary work on a new express freight-rail line in New Jersey that would access the Port Jersey Port Authority Marine Terminal located in the New York Harbor. Officials are looking to build rail access for the container port so that shipments load directly onto rail cars rather than transporting them by truck. The Port of Elizabeth, the Port of Newark, and other marine terminals in the area already benefit from direct rail access.

The Port Authority has yet to designate an overall cost of the project. Officials said express freight rail helps combat roadway congestion and air pollution while increasing revenue.

“This will be an important initiative in our expansion of shifting more and more cargo out of trucks and onto rail… but I wouldn’t want to give you a price tag on that at this point,” Port Authority executive director Christopher Ward said after the board meeting. “But we are committed to a significant expansion in rail at [the terminal.”

 

 

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