Lautenberg Seeks Private Partner for Halted Tunnel

Senator Frank Lautenberg
Senator Frank Lautenberg. Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, said he contacted a “major New York City-based finance firm” for help in funding the commuter-rail tunnel project canceled last week by Governor Chris Christie.

Lautenberg, 86, declined to name the company during an interview in East Orange today. He said he wants to examine that as one potential way to restart the project. Christie cited cost overruns that he said could be as high as $5 billion for his decision, which Lautenberg called “one of the biggest public-policy blunders in New Jersey history.”

“If that could happen, it may be one way to help lighten the load,” the senator said, referring to a private role in financing the tunnel under the Hudson River.

Christie and the Federal Transit Administration are undertaking a 14-day review of his decision and whether the project can be re-started. The tunnel, the largest mass-transit project in the history of the transportation agency, calls for an 8.8-mile (14-kilometer) conduit to double the number of commuter trains New Jersey Transit can send into Manhattan in peak periods.

Lautenberg said he also asked officials with the federal government and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to contribute more to the project. Lautenberg said he hasn’t received commitments for increased funding from the federal government or the Port Authority.

Funding Shifted

The original funding plan called for the state to pay $2.7 billion of the cost, while the federal government and Port Authority would each pitch in $3 billion. Lautenberg said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has told him New Jersey would forfeit the money if the project is scuttled.

“States are searching for ways to get through their own problems,” Lautenberg said. “This is New Jersey’s project. They’re going to manage it, and it’s going to be up to them to contain the costs.”

Christie said the initial $8.7 billion cost of the tunnel might have reached $14 billion. His spokesman, Michael Drewniak, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who attended a speech this week by President Barack Obama on infrastructure spending, said it “boggled his mind” that a state would turn down the $3 billion and that he would be interested in seeking a share. Lautenberg said officials in Texas and Orlando, Florida, have also expressed interest in obtaining some of the $3 billion.

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