As published by Keith Laing in The Hill
Unions back NYC rail tunnel plan
The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) is backing a plan that calls for the federal government to pay for half of the cost of building a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed the plan to split the cost of a new tunnel between their states with federal officials on Tuesday as delays have mounted on busy Amtrak and commuter rail routes in the northeast.
AFL-CIO TTD President Ed Wytkind said Wednesday that unions that fall under his group’s umbrella “are pleased that Gov. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo have advanced a joint plan … to build a desperately needed Hudson River tunnel that serves Amtrak and commuter rail traffic between New Jersey and New York, and links to the entire Northeast Corridor.
“While we will want to review the details of this proposed funding partnership between New York, New Jersey and the federal government, [Tuesday’s] news gives us hope that this looming mobility and economic crisis may be resolved,” Wytkind said in a statement.
“We have long called for investment in a new Hudson River rail tunnel, especially since Superstorm Sandy devastated the region’s infrastructure including these tunnel crossings,” he continued. “Soon, Amtrak will be forced to initiate rolling shut downs of tunnels for major repairs and upgrades. The chaos and economic damage a shutdown of any of Amtrak’s tunnels would cause are immeasurable as commuters and businesses alike would face many years of severe disruptions.”
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 picks up the rest of the tab.
“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 Foxx.
“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.
Wytkind said the Obama administration should strongly consider the governor’s proposal.
“We urge the Obama Administration and Gov. Christie and Cuomo to reach an agreement quickly on a full funding plan for a Hudson River rail tunnel,” he said. “This project will put thousands to work, give Amtrak and commuter railroads the infrastructure they need to meet projected growth in traffic and serve as a much needed shot in the arm for our economy.”
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.
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.