NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo was under new pressure Tuesday to support a new Hudson River rail tunnel – but the federal government has disputed his claims that it is holding back the project.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the drumbeat followed massive delays in the existing tunnel shared by Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT.
This past Thursday, the New York Times published an editorial calling on Cuomo to “get on board” with the Gateway Program to construct a rail tunnel under the Hudson.
The newspaper editorial board noted that Gov. Chris Christie had met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to discuss a plan, but claimed Cuomo “has unhelpfully (and wrongly) suggested that the tunnel is mainly New Jersey’s problem, and has made it clear that he thinks any serious tunnel talks are premature.”
“I actually want to get the tunnel done, and that starts by overcoming the real obstacles to progress — and the primary obstacle is the federal commitment to fund this project. This federal commitment is both necessary and appropriate because of the huge $20 billion price tag and the fact that this project is a national priority,” Cuomo wrote.
Cuomo wrote further that the federal government is not offered anything that would really help move the project forward.
“(G)etting the federal government to turn its rhetorical support into actual support is the essential cornerstone,” he said. “Washington’s only offer so far — of a partial loan — is not a viable financing plan and does nothing to make the project a reality.”
The letter in turn provoked a strong response to its own from the federal government. Several sources told CBS2 that Cuomo was promised both grant money and low-interest loans.
The grant money, which could be as much as several billion dollars, could come from the Federal Transit Administration New Starts program, among others, sources said.
Cuomo fired back once more in a late-afternoon phone call to CBS2.
“I only wish that that were true,” he said. “We’re now in this bureaucratic maze where the federal government is saying one thing; different governments are saying different things. The only thing they have offered is a loan. Thank you very much, but it’s not enough.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also gotten in on the act, suggesting that Cuomo and Christie set up a public corporation to build the tunnel.
“This public corporation would both fast-track planning and design and provide a pathway to pull down the billions in federal support needed to build this tunnel,” said Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro.
The discussion came as commuters have been complaining about the constant and massive delays caused by aging equipment and aging tunnels that were also damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
The backups caused Maureen Brady to take precautions before boarding Tuesday.
“We were saying, ‘Let’s make sure we have water and snacks just in case,’ so we’re preparing for the worst,” said Maureen Brady of Spring Lake, New Jersey.
Dave Carroll of Bloomfield, New Jersey, said he has suffered through many delays.
“During the rain storm two weeks ago, we got backed up to Hoboken and I had to take the PATH train, so it’s been an ordeal,” he said.
And Byron Ward of Somerset, New Jersey had a message about the plan to build the tunnel.
“Do it now,” he said. “Do it now.”
And it is not as if the feds have not chipped in already, Kramer reported. Sources said well over $500 million have been invested in planning and design for various parts of the project – including the tunnel and a new portal bridge.
If a public development corporation were set up, it could also sell bonds to help finance the project.