NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Democrats are calling on the Port Authority to sell off its real estate holdings and use the money to fund the Hudson River rail tunnel project.

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the bi-state agency needs to get its priorities straight.

“The mission of the Port Authority in New York and New Jersey is transportation, not real estate,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney joined with other Democrats and transportation and business leaders Tuesday at Newark’s Penn Station to stress the critical importance of a new rail tunnel.

“Heaven forbid something happened to the existing tunnel,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck. “This whole region would fall apart. And it’s being held together right now with Scotch tape.”

Sweeney said the federal government needs a commitment from New Jersey and New York to build the rail tunnel.

“Sometimes you hear, ‘You have to spend money to make money,'” Sweeney said. “If we don’t do this, $4 billion annually will be lost in increased growth.”

He said the Port Authority could divest just a quarter of its $12 billion in real estate holdings to jump-start the long-delayed Amtrak Gateway tunnel project.

The Port Authority said in a statement it “is focused on meeting the increasing requirements for Trans-Hudson transit capacity at our crossings and terminals in coordination with regional stakeholders, and prudently divesting non-core real estate holdings in order to focus on our core transportation mission.”

“Agreements we have made in recent years for the Essex County Resource Recovery Facility, the Newark Legal Center and the Westfield World Trade Center retail and are examples of this strategy of reviewing and disposing of non-core real estate holdings,” the agency said.

The announcement comes a day after the Senate failed to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill that would have given the Legislature more influence over the Port Authority.

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