Calling it a major reduction of tension between the Christie administration and the federal government, Martin Robins said the $95 million settlement between the state and the Federal Transportation Administration could restore some cooperation on future projects.
Robins, director emeritus and founder of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Policy at Rutgers University, said the “tremendous rift” left between Chris Christie and the federal government over the cancellation of the Access to the Region’s Core project led to the lawsuit.
Christie announced Friday that no new tax dollars will be needed to pay the settlement, as insurance premium refunds will foot the bill over five years.
“It makes for the possibility that when N.J. does something or needs something that they may get a better hearing at (U.S. Department of Transportation) than they might of otherwise if this controversy went unresolved,” Robins said.
Robins said the Portal Bridge project over the Hackensack River “will be the first test to see whether or not the U.S. government and New Jersey can come together on a funding package and move forward.”
Robins also said the settlement money, which is returned to New Jersey in the form of public transportation funds, could support NJ Transit programs.
“It’s unlikely to produce glamorous results, but it could provide some relief in areas that are under tremendous financial stress,” Robins said.
The true value of the settlement, though, may be seen in the successor to the ARC tunnel project.
Robins served as director of the multi-agency planning team for the ARC project from 1994 to 1998, which looked at the need for additional rail capacity between New York and New Jersey.
“Can New Jersey and other partners in the region work with the federal government on working to get funding for the project?” Robins said, saying that the Amtrak Gateway project supported by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park), or the extension of the New York 7 Subway into New Jersey favored by the Christie administration are front runners.
“The likely outcome is that northern and central New Jersey will get no new rail capacity,” Robins said. “But my personal hope is that somehow, this settlement can begin to open up a real dialogue between New Jersey, Amtrak and the federal railroad administration … this could provide some glimmers of hope.”