Amtrak Tunnel Needs Revival, Foxx Tells Christie and Cuomo

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Anthony Foxx, U.S. transportation secretary, speaks at a Bloomberg Government event on investing in U.S. infrastructure in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, April 27, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called for an urgent meeting with the governors of New York and New Jersey to revive work on Amtrak’s stalled Gateway tunnel project under the Hudson River.

The condition of rail tubes linking the states is “a major threat to the region and our nation’s transportation system,” Foxx said Monday in a letter to New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo of New York.

“It is increasingly clear that the problems of this crumbling asset will not go away, and we remain committed to advancing needed repairs and replacements,” Foxx said.

NJ Transit suffered four days of delays last week that it attributed to failures of equipment owned by Amtrak, the national passenger rail company that operates the tracks used by the commuter railroad. The chaos continued Tuesday: The transit agency said in a Twitter post that trains into and out of New York’s Pennsylvania Station were delayed as much as 20 minutes due to continuing Amtrak overhead wire problems.

The Transportation Department is working with Amtrak to find money to build the Gateway tunnels, Foxx said. The department recently allocated $185 million for the project and is “willing once again to explore federal financial assistance,” he said.

Foxx called for a meeting with Christie and Cuomo in the next two weeks to discuss the states’ roles in completing the project. Amtrak has proposed building two new Hudson River tunnels.

Christie, Cuomo

Christie, a 52-year-old Republican running for president, said he and Cuomo had a “good conversation” by telephone Monday night after Christie’s town-hall meeting in Keene, New Hampshire, where he is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.

“We’re both happy to sit down with the secretary to see if we can have a real conversation about how this is going to be funded and the equity for both states and the people of the region,” Christie said Tuesday in Marlborough.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment on Foxx’s letter.

Christie in 2010 canceled the $12.4 billion tunnel project known as ARC, or Access to the Region’s Core, citing design issues and potential cost overruns for New Jersey residents. The biggest planned U.S. infrastructure project at the time, ARC would have doubled peak rail service to Manhattan.

The 100-year-old tubes below the Hudson River, key to rail service from Washington to Boston, are at capacity. Damaged by Hurricane Sandy flooding in 2012, they have less than 20 years of service left, Joseph Boardman, chief executive officer of Amtrak, said last year.

The cancellation of ARC allowed Christie to redirect $1.25 billion to plug transportation budget holes, paying for road and bridge projects. It also enabled him to avoid raising the gasoline tax, among the nation’s lowest, before his presidential bid.

A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that Christie had overstated the tunnel’s costs. The region would have gained 44,000 jobs thanks to improved access and $9 billion in business activity during construction. New Jersey towns with rail access to New York City stood to increase their home values 4.2 percent because of better travel time to high-paying jobs.

The Christie administration has no long-term plan to finance road projects beyond June, when the multibillion-dollar Transportation Trust Fund runs out.