Today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo sent a letter to President Barack Obama outlining a viable funding framework to break the logjam over funding for a new trans-Hudson commuter rail tunnel – a critical infrastructure project of regional and national economic importance.
State and federal officials have long acknowledged the need for action on a new tunnel, and today’s proposal presents what the governors ague is a fair funding solution that calls for a federal grant commitment of 50 percent of the project’s total cost with New York, New Jersey, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) taking responsibility for developing a financing plan for the other half. The new tunnel is essential to the region, and this bipartisan proposal is designed to break through the logjam that has delayed its construction in the past. As the two Governors wrote:
“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. 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. This funding framework is comparable to previous structures proposed for a new tunnel.”
The governors said today’s bipartisan proposal represents a workable funding formula that builds on the collaborative efforts and input of state and federal elected officials from New Jersey and New York:
“However, the key step to building a new tunnel is a realistic financial plan and commitment by the federal government. We have both been in touch with our respective Congressional delegations. In New York, Senator Schumer has stated that he is committed to making the project a reality and has identified a number of federal sources of funding. In New Jersey, Senator Booker and Senator Menendez convened a meeting on the project, and are committed to finding federal funding. The congressional delegations of New York and New Jersey are united in a manner we have rarely seen before.”
In addition to presenting their plan, Christie and Cuomo also requested that federal environmental and planning approvals be expedited in order to move forward as quickly as possible, and both governors made a commitment to do the same with similar state-level reviews.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) issued a statement in response to the plan submitted to President Obama by the governors.
“Today’s announcement is an important step forward for construction of the Gateway project in order to avert the economic catastrophe that would occur if one of the 105-year-old rail tunnels closes before the new ones are built. My Senate colleagues and I have made the construction of the Gateway tunnel an absolute priority. It is now up to the federal government to act quickly to both match the local commitment and expedite the project. Until we do, commuters will continue to suffer delays and overcrowding. This project is critical to the regional economy and will provide benefits for generations to come.”
Other Senate Democratic leaders likewise praised the announcement.
“With Governors Christie and Cuomo finally coming to the table and agreeing to cover 50 percent of the cost of construction, it is now up to President Obama and the federal government to come up with the federal share needed to make the Gateway project a reality,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37).
“Building the Gateway tunnel is critical to avoid the commuting nightmare that would occur if a tunnel closure forced 75,000 rail commuters onto already overcrowded buses, highways and PATH trains, but that’s just the first stage,” said Senate Budget Committee Paul Sarlo (D-36). “The project also will double New Jersey rail commuter capacity to New York and ensure the region’s economic growth.”
“The Senate Democratic leadership has been pushing for months for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bistate agency responsible for trans-Hudson transportation, to take a lead role in the Gateway project,” said Senator Bob Gordon (D-38), chairman of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee that is holding hearings on Port Authority priorities. “We are pleased the governors are now making this project a Port Authority priority.”
The three Democratic senators also praised U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate surface transportation subcommittee, for his leadership in pushing to make federal Railroad Refinancing and Infrastructure Financing Improvement Act loans available to cover the New Jersey and New York regional share of the tunnel project.
“The provision of low-cost loans payable over a long period of time makes this project financially manageable for the states and for the Port Authority, and it is a logical way to finance new rail tunnels designed to last a hundred years,” Sarlo said.
“The Gateway rail tunnel project and the construction and expansion of the Port Authority Bus Terminal need to be the Port Authority’s top priorities over the next decade,” Weinberg said. “Now that the rail tunnel plan is in place, we need to put together a solid plan for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal.”
Gordon said his committee would resume its hearings on Port Authority reforms and priorities for the agency’s 10-year capital plan on Thursday, September 24, at 10 a.m. in the State House Annex in Trenton.