Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday, for the third day out of four, stressed his view that a trans-Hudson tunnel will not happen without significant federal support and again stated his opposition to even a meeting on the issue. Speaking to reporters after a day of Amtrak testimony in front of the New Jersey Senate, Cuomo continued his game of high-stakes chicken.
“It’s not my tunnel,” he said, showing more of his cards than he probably intended. “Why don’t you pay for it? It’s not my tunnel. It is an Amtrak tunnel that is used by Amtrak and by New Jersey Transit.”
The New New York Bridge, on the other hand, is his bridge, and Cuomo grew defensive when challenged on this project — one inarguably far less important to New York City than trans-Hudson rail capacity. Here’s how Dana Rubinstein of the newly-rebranded Politico New York reported on the exchange:
“There’s no moral, legal or ethical reason why the state should be looked at to fund it, or the states plural, New Jersey and New York,” said Cuomo on Monday. “The federal government said they would provide funding and it turns out they would provide a loan and no more than a loan. My problem is not the loan. My problem is repaying the loan.”
A reporter asked him why he was willing to take on debt for a new Tappan Zee Bridge. “Because the Tappan Zee Bridge is a state bridge,” he said.
I said my piece on Cuomo’s misguided opposition to supporting a trans-Hudson rail tunnel in yesterday’s post, and he’s just making it worse. On the need to draw out federal dollars, Cuomo has a very valid point, but his rhetoric is parochial nonsense that hurts New York far more than it helps. Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie, he of the canceled ARC Tunnel, at least committed to meet with the feds later this month because Senator Cory Booker requested it. Cuomo can’t even seem to bridge that divide, and I don’t see how this is helping us — the New Yorkers who are his constituents.
Meanwhile, Amtrak has suggested a way forward. In a Senate hearing during which the rail agency presented a rather dire picture of future operations without substantial capital support and a new tunnel, agency officials proposed a funding solution involving the feds. It may be enough to silence Cuomo and get him to the table, but it would also require Capitol Hill to pick up over $11 billion of what is today expected to be a $14 billion project. Larry Higgs had more:
Amtrak officials told a state Senate panel that it needs at least $1 billion a year to bring its system into a state of good repair and that the canceled ARC tunnel would have provided some help if a Hudson River tunnel were forced out of service for repair.
Stephen Gardner, Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief of NEC Business Development, said it would take a recurring investment of at least $4 billion a year to replace aging infrastructure, including the 105-year-old Hudson River tunnels and the century old Portal Bridge…
Senator Robert Gordon, D-Bergen, who called the hearing said he’s hoping it will convince Christie and federal lawmakers of the seriousness of the problem. Gordon said he was heartened by Gardner’s testimony that the federal government could put up 80 percent of the estimated $14 billion funding for Gateway through a federal railroad reconstruction program that has $35 billion in uncommitted funds and a loan program that could help states fund their share over 35 years.
As The Times noted in its coverage of the hearing, Gardner noted that the proposed funding split was “common for aviation projects…and Amtrak carries three times as many passengers between New York and Washington as all the airlines put together.”
So we have an idea without a sponsor in D.C., a New Jersey governor who is a skeptic but will listen, and a New York governor who will show up only if the feds are, in his words, “serious” about contributing money rather than loans. Meanwhile, one line of argument from Amtrak is guiding this stand-off. As Gardner said yesterday, “The tunnel is under stress. To maintain the current level of service is a challenge.” It’s all a challenge.