ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s dispute with the federal government over how to pay for a new Hudson River rail tunnel boiled over into a war of words Wednesday between the governor and President Barack Obama’s transportation secretary.
Cuomo said Wednesday that Secretary Anthony Foxx was uttering “Washington double speak” when Foxx’s spokesman questioned Cuomo’s assertion that the federal government had to commit a significant investment in the project before it could move forward.
Cuomo said earlier in the day that the federal government should pay the “lion’s share” of the estimated $14 billion tunnel project, which experts say is key to relieving congestion on an existing tunnel and vital to the region’s future transportation needs.
Cuomo did not attend a meeting about the tunnel Tuesday between New Jersey leaders – including Gov. Chris Christie — and U.S. Foxx.
Foxx and Christie held a meeting Tuesday — which Cuomo’s office said they were not invited to — and on Wednesday Cuomo reiterated his argument that Washington would have to make a significant investment in the project before the project could move forward.
“Secretary Foxx said it’s a crime not to build the tunnel,” Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever told The Associated Press in an email Wednesday night. “He’s holding the gun. There’s no question New York knows how to build a tunnel but we need the funding — The feds have been talking about this for eight years, but have never said what they’re willing to put up.”
The comments came after Foxx spokesman Jon Romano told The Associated Press the office has made it clear it would do “everything we could” to move the project forward, but the only way to do that is through “the equitable distribution” of funding responsibility.
“As the governor knows, the federal government doesn’t just issue grants,” Romano said. “At the present time there isn’t a fully defined project or applicant we can even grant the money to.”
Romano also noted that Cuomo has “made it clear” he has no interest in meeting with Foxx and Christie to discuss the tunnel.
“As commuters continue to endure serious daily challenges in this region, it’s disappointing that this meeting hasn’t happened yet,” Romano said. “However, Secretary Foxx remains committed to meeting with Governor Cuomo if and when he’s ready.”
Cuomo’s pugnacious comments highlight the difficulties facing the tunnel project, which will need a financial agreement among Washington, New York and New Jersey before it can be built. Cuomo had dismissed earlier proposals from Washington as insufficient, saying the federal government was only willing to extend loans for a tunnel that would be operated by Amtrak and used by New Jersey Transit.
Speaking Wednesday morning on NY1, Cuomo said he was trying to “provoke” a conversation at the federal level about the need to pay for the tunnel.
Recent NJ TRANSIT delays on the existing century-old rail lines under the Hudson have highlighted the need for a new tunnel.
He said earlier Wednesday that New York will pay for its fair share, but only after Washington commits to paying most of the cost.
“The federal government has to go first,” he said. “Once they give us that number, we’ll figure out how to close the gap, but it’s time for the federal government to step up.”
Rail experts and Amtrak officials say that, while a new tunnel will improve reliability, it won’t suddenly double the number of trains between New Jersey and New York. That’s because the existing tunnel will be closed for repairs for a minimum of two years once a new one is built.
In addition, two new tracks will need to be added between New Jersey stations in Newark and Secaucus, where two currently exist. And, perhaps more critical, New York’s Penn Station needs to be expanded to accommodate the increased traffic.
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