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NY Gov. Cuomo: Feds Must Pay More for Rail Tunnel

In a forcefully worded letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Cuomo noted that federal laws require Amtrak to maintain the current tunnels.

Mon August 24, 2015 - Northeast Edition
David Klepper and David Porter - ASSOCIATED PRESS

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned federal transportation officials that Amtrak’s entire Northeast corridor could be disrupted and disabled unless Washington invests significant sums in a plan to build new Hudson River rail tunnels.

In a forcefully worded letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Cuomo noted that federal laws require Amtrak to maintain the current tunnels and that plans for a new tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey — estimated to cost $14 billion — are not viable without a large federal investment.

While officials in both states and in Washington agree the project is necessary to upgrade an aging and deteriorating tunnel system, no one has agreed on a funding plan, with Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie both saying the federal government must pick up more of the cost.

“This tunnel is a vital link for the entire Northeast corridor,’’ Cuomo wrote to Foxx. “As we both realize, without this link, Amtrak becomes disabled in the Northeast region.’’

The federal government promised to invest $3 billion in an earlier tunnel project several years ago that was initially estimated to cost about $9 billion. That project was scrapped by Christie in 2010 over concerns New Jersey would have had to cover cost overruns.

This time, Cuomo said federal officials are only offering to extend the states loans for the tunnel, putting the entire cost of the tunnel on the backs of the two states and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“It is simply not appropriate for Amtrak and the federal government to look to the states and to the Port Authority to bear the large financial burden of an Amtrak asset that has fallen into disrepair through lack of Amtrak investment over decades,’’ Cuomo wrote.

He later said in an interview on NY1 that because of the funding uncertainty “right now the prospect [for the project] is not especially bright.’’

A spokeswoman of Christie said Cuomo’s letter reflects Christie’s views on the need for major federal funding for a new tunnel.

“The state of New Jersey and New York are committed to ensuring their taxpayers will not be forced to cover the cost of the project in the absence of significant federal funding,’’ deputy press secretary Nicole Sizemore wrote in an email.

A Transportation Department spokeswoman said the federal agency is committed to working toward a solution.

“We know this project will be hard to get done, but we also know the alternative is much worse,’’ said spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling. “We’re willing to go to extraordinary lengths to help move this project forward using existing federal resources. If there are tools we need from Congress, we’re willing to consider joining regional leadership to get them.

“But all of that is predicated on getting to yes on an approach, and we remain committed to doing so as long as the region is,’’ she said.

Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, are expected to meet soon with federal transportation officials to discuss the tunnel project.

Cuomo’s letter comes after several train delays caused by aging electrical systems in the current tunnel. Like much of the infrastructure throughout the Northeast corridor, the cables date back to the first half of the 20th century and are considered past their useful life.

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