Connecting state and local government leaders
Disagreements over how the critical infrastructure project should be paid for have previously left it hamstrung.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a request to President Obama on Tuesday for the federal government to pick up half of the tab on a massive rail tunnel infrastructure project that would connect the two states beneath the Hudson River.
A pair of existing tunnels, originally built by the Pennsylvania Railroad, is about 105 years old and sustained damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The tunnels are heavily trafficked by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains heading in and out of New York City’s Penn Station, the nation’s busiest rail hub.
The new rail link, known as the Gateway project, is considered vital for the region.
But government officials, including Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican who is competing for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination, have previously disagreed about how the cost of building it should be covered.
The estimated price tag they mention in the letter is approximately $20 billion.
Amtrak officials have expressed concern that the existing tunnels have less than 20 years left before they will need to be taken out of service for major rehabilitation. If no replacement tunnels are ready by that point, rail capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan would drop from 24 trains per hour to just six trains per hour.
“The key step on the tunnel is to secure federal funding and design a viable financial package. No other option is feasible,” the governors wrote. “We assure you that, if we have the funding, we will get it done. Our shovels are ready!”
In their letter, the governors said that if the federal government would provide grants to pay for half of the tunnel costs, their states would figure out how to come up with the rest of the money.
They also said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was prepared to lead efforts on the project.
Cuomo said during a press conference on Tuesday that the states of New York and New Jersey and the Port Authority had not yet worked out a plan for how to divide up the half of the costs that would not be covered if the federal government goes along with the request.
Christie had put the kibosh on earlier plans for a related rail tunnel project, Access to the Region’s Core, due to concerns about his state getting stuck paying cost overruns.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx expressed optimism about Tuesday’s proposal.
“Today the governors of New York and New Jersey have taken a big step forward: they’ve come to the table,” he said in a statement.
In addition to the funding, Cuomo and Christie asked for the federal government to expedite all environmental and planning approvals.
Attempting to put the project's scale in context, the governors pointed out in their letter that the cost of replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge, a span that crosses a broad stretch of the Hudson River north of New York City is about $4 billion.
They also noted that delays due to damage in the current rail tunnels already occur with “unfortunate frequency” and that “we are years from completing a new tunnel—even if we started today.”
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Bill Lucia is a Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty.