Christie, Cuomo ask feds to pay for half of new NYC rail tunnel

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) are asking the federal government to pay for half of the cost of building a new rail tunnel between their states. 

Train tunnel problems in the northeast have emerged as a political issue as Christie runs for president because transportation advocates have blamed his cancelation of an earlier train tunnel for rail delays that have plagued New Jersey commuters this summer. 

Christie and Cuomo said Tuesday that they are willing to pay for half of the construction of a new tunnel between their states if the federal government chips picks up the rest of the tab. 

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"We are writing jointly in an attempt to move the stalled project forward by putting a funding proposal on the table that we believe is realistic, appropriate and fair: split the responsibility for the cost," the governors wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFeds require new safeguards for railroad employees Uber to spend M to meet demand during Metro maintenance Virginia gov threatens to withhold DC Metro funding MORE

"If the federal government will provide grants to pay for half of the cost of the project, the Port Authority, New York and New Jersey will take responsibility for developing a funding plan for the other half, convening all relevant agencies, and utilizing the proposed federal low-interest loan, local funding sources, and other funding strategies necessary to complement the federal grant commitment," they continued. "This funding framework is comparable to previous structures proposed for a new tunnel.”

Christie and Cuomo estimate the new rail tunnel between their states will cost $20 billion to build. Killing the earlier tunnel proposal, known as the Access to the Region's Core (ARC) project, was one of Christie's first high-profile decisions after he was elected in 2009 in a surprise win over then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat.

The  earlier project was originally projected to cost $8.7 billion, but it faced cost overruns. When Christie canceled it, the price tag was up to $11 billion. 

Christie allies also point out that the first tunnel proposal would not have carried trains directly to New York's Penn Station, which is home to Amtrak and many commuter railways.  

Christie cast the decision at the time as an example of the type of fiscal responsibility that he promised voters in the Garden State when they elected him governor. 

"Considering the unprecedented fiscal and economic climate our state is facing, it is completely unthinkable to borrow more money and leave taxpayers responsible for billions in cost overruns," he said in an October 2010 statement. "The ARC project costs far more than New Jersey taxpayers can afford and the only prudent move is to end this project."

Christie met with Foxx last month to discuss the New York City area rail problems after Foxx labeled the condition of the current trans-Hudson tunnels "a major threat to the region and to our nation's transportation system." 

"Our administration has long been committed to building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River," Foxx wrote in a July 27 letter to Christie and Cuomo requesting the meeting, noting Christie's rejection of the earlier tunnel project. 

"President Obama and former Secretary Ray LaHood pledged $3 billion to the ARC tunnel five years ago," Foxx continued. "The project was canceled, the funds were directed elsewhere, and the prospect of a new tunnel has languished. It is increasingly clear that the problems of this crumbling asset will not go away, and we remain committed to advancing needed repairs and replacements." 

Amtrak officials have identified expanding train capacity between New Jersey and New York as one of the company's most pressing needs. They have put forth a new proposal, called the Gateway project, to build two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River to double the train capacity between New Jersey and New York.

"The century-old tunnels require constant attention and maintenance, but the volume of traffic is simply too high to permit maintenance and repair work during weekdays," Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman wrote in a February letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Vice President Biden detailing Amtrak's 2016 budget requests, noting that the tunnels were first opened in 1910. 

New Jersey transportation officials have reiterated Christie's position on the canceled rail tunnel as transportation advocates have sought to turn the decision into a 2016 campaign issue. The GOP presidential hopeful has said that would support a plan to boost rail capacity between New Jersey and New York that makes more sense than the ill-fated ARC project. 

"The key step to building a new tunnel is a realistic financial plan and commitment by the federal government," Christie and Cuomo wrote to Foxx. 

"We have both been in touch with our respective Congressional delegations," the governors continued. "In New York, Sen. [Chuck] Schumer has stated that he is committed to making the project a reality and has identified a number of federal sources of funding. In New Jersey, Sen. [Cory] Booker and Sen. [Robert] Menendez convened a meeting on the project, and are committed to finding federal funding. The congressional delegations of New York and New Jersey are united in a manner we have rarely seen before.”