ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The governors of New York and New Jersey wrote to President Barack Obama on Tuesday asking the federal government to pay for half the cost of a new rail tunnel below the Hudson River — a sign that the long-delayed project could be moving ahead.
In the joint letter, the two governors say their states, along with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, would cover the other half of the project's price tag, estimated to be at least $14 billion.
The proposal — the most detailed yet from the two states — is an effort to break the "logjam" surrounding funding for the project, which experts say is vital not only to New Jersey commuters but to the entire Northeast Corridor, the nation's busiest rail line.
"We assure you that, if we have the funding, we will get it done," wrote Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican. "Our shovels are ready."
The governors called for the creation of a development agency — to be housed within the Port Authority — to facilitate the project. That was an idea first floated by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, in a speech a month ago.
"There is light at the beginning of the tunnel," Schumer told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He called the governors' funding proposal "fair and reasonable" and said he would work to secure the federal investment. "I've spoken to both Christie and Cuomo and told them we will go to bat but we've told them we need everyone cooperating."
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx hailed the governors' letter and said federal officials would "engage with local officials immediately" to refine cost estimates and the available of existing funds.
"Today the governors of New York and New Jersey have taken a big step forward: They've come to the table," Foxx said.
The existing 105-year-old rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey has been plagued with congestion and mounting delays. But talks over building a new tunnel have been beset with disputes over how to pay for the project.
"The project is simply impossible without federal grant assistance," the 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."
The letter also asks the federal government to expedite the approval of environmental and planning work to speed up the project.
Some 200,000 passengers ride trains through the existing tunnel each day. Amtrak estimates that the passageway — which has a single track in two tubes, one for either direction — has a life expectancy of about 20 years. Construction of a new tunnel will take a decade.
If nothing is done, experts say Amtrak will have to shut down one tube for a year for repairs that would reduce the total number of trains using the tunnel from 24 to 6 per hour at peak times. That would entail adding more ferries, buses and cars to an already congested area and threatening to disrupt the entire Northeast Corridor, which is used by 750,000 passengers daily in eight states.