Add what to do about the crumbling condition of two cross-Hudson rail tunnels to the growing list of things Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo don’t quite see eye-to-eye on.
The two separately weighed in Wednesday after problems in the underground tunnels that serve both New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains repeatedly delayed commuters heading into and out of Pennsylvania Station. The massive delays spurred the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to pen Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, and his New Jersey counterpart, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a letter urging them to take “immediate action” to develop a plan for new tunnels.
Just two single-track tubes serve the Amtrak and NJ Transit trains, one heading east and one heading west, and both are more than 100 years old. If one tube must be taken offline—which Amtrak officials say is a certainty, thanks to repairs needed after Hurricane Sandy flooded the tunnels—trains can’t enter and exit Penn Station at the same time. Mr.Foxx has deemed inaction on the new tubes “almost criminal.” The most recent plan, dubbed the Gateway Project, would build two new tunnels, increase traffic from 62 trains to 92 trains a day, and cost about $13.5 billion, and was first proposed in 2011. Most of it remains unfunded.
Mr. Cuomo today hedged on the tunnel issue—saying the federal government needed to put up the cash.
“Gov. Christie and I both agree that we need to repair those tunnels as quickly as possible. The problem there is money,” Mr. Cuomo told reporter Susan Arbetter on her radio show, Capital Pressroom. “You know, it’s about $12 billion, Susan. That’s a lot of money.”
Mr. de Blasio, meanwhile, was much more declarative—perhaps because, unlike the MTA, he probably won’t have to put any money for these tunnels.
“We need another cross-Hudson tunnel, period,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer today during an unrelated press conference at City Hall. “We need it and the city’s going to work very hard to support that.”
Further complicating the matter is that Mr. Christie, who is also seeking the Republican nomination for president, canceled a project that would have doubled the cross-Hudson train capacity, dubbed the ARC—Access to the Region’s Core—tunnel. Mr. Christie said he scuttled the project, which would have built new tunnels into Penn Station, because New Jersey would be on the hook for cost overruns.
“We lost a great opportunity when New Jersey, I think, made a huge mistake and turned away from that tunnel a few years ago,” Mr. de Blasio said today. “We’ve got to get it back—and I think it’s very much in the long-term interest of this city.”
For Mr. Cuomo, who has stood alongside Mr. Christie on issues like terror threats and Ebola, it wasn’t that simple. He also noted he wasn’t yet governor when Mr. Christie scuttled the project, though he was the state’s attorney general. And he sympathized with the need to ensure the plan wouldn’t rack up debt for the state and hurt its tax base.
“I don’t know that he believed it was financially responsible for his state,” Mr. Cuomo said in declining to deem Mr. Christie’s decision a mistake.
Mr. Christie, meanwhile, has defended his decision to shelf the project in 2010—but he’s also said if he were elected president, he would build new tunnels.
“If I am president of the United States, I call a meeting between the president, my secretary of transportation, the governor of New York and the governor of New Jersey and say, ‘Listen, if we are all in this even Steven, if we are all going to put in an equal share, then let’s go build these tunnels under the Hudson River,’ ” Mr. Christie told radio host Larry Kudlow this weekend on WABC-AM.
The issue is often painted as one most important to New Jersey—after all, it was mostly New Jersey residents commuting to New York City who were left stranded across the river or worse, stuck underneath the Hudson, last week. But the poor conditions of the tunnel, and the need to share between Amtrak and NJ Transit, also creates a major chokepoint for regional rail service on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which runs from Washington to Boston. And Mr. de Blasio noted that new tunnels—which is among the priorities in his administration’s resiliency measures outlined in the OneNY proposal—are also important to New York.
“Look, this is a growing city with a growing economy, and our connection to New Jersey is going to deepen,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And we need people to be able to get across the Hudson River. We also need redundancy to make suer there’s always a tunnel available to us. So this is going to be a high priority going forward.