Following notable public figures including Presidents Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower, House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neil and New York state Govs. Mario M. Cuomo and Andrew Cuomo, Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.-R) stepped to the lectern at the New York Hilton on Jan. 29 to address more than 1,900 members and guests of the Moles, a heavy-construction industry group.
The occasion was the Moles annual awards dinner, with honors this year in the member category going to Moles' longtime leader John L. Kolaya, president of Yonkers Contracting Co., and non-member honors to geotechnical consultant Ronald E. Heuer.
Christie said he was asked the question, "Are you going to have an uplifting message for a group of folks in the construction industry?" That depended, he said. "What I'm here to tell you tonight is the truth, and if you find the truth uplifting, that's good. And if you find the truth a little depressing, that's understandable. But what we need to do as leaders is to start talking the truth to each other."
Surprising in a talk with this theme, Christie made only a passing reference to the recent controversy over members of his administration closing lanes of the George Washington Bridge as alleged political retaliation against the mayor of Ft. Lee for lack of support in Christie's re-election campaign. After an introduction by Moles President Joseph Milandro, president of E.E. Cruz and Co., Christie joked, "It makes me so teary and nostalgic when Joe reads the part that says, 'every newspaper in the state heaps him with praise.' Ah, the good old days!"
The truth-telling in Christie's speech pointed to an earlier controversy he inherited in his early days as governor, a project called the ARC Tunnel, or Access to the Region's Core Tunnel—already running $5 billion to $7 billion over budget when Christie took office. The governor lauded the project for what it wanted to do: take people from New Jersey on a one-seat ride to the East Side of Manhattan. But he said, "The good idea had morphed into a one-seat ride into the basement of Macy's into a terminal that, by itself, was going to cost over $1 billion." But the real reason he cancelled the ARC tunnel, Christie said, was because "the people of my state were getting the shaft." Project costs were shared between the federal government, New Jersey and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, but all cost overruns went to New Jersey. Christie called the city and state of New York "missing actors."
At the time facing an "inherited state budget that was $11 billion in deficit on a $29 billion budget," Christie canceled the project, which "was not a hard decision." Christie said he asked Gov. Patterson (D) and Mayor Bloomberg (I) to split the cost overruns in thirds. "Not only would they not take a third, they wouldn't take any of it."
Christie said all this history does not mean he opposes big infrastructure projects. He pointed to current work on an alternate tunnel with Amtrak and the federal government; the Goethals Bridge; the Bayonne Bridge and rebuilding the Pulaski Skyway—projects that improve safety and create jobs and economic opportunity. But Christie concluded that choosing everything is choosing nothing. "We need to choose those things that are most important and prioritize them," he said.