Cuomo, Washington fight over Hudson rail tunnel funding

AP News
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Posted: Aug 19, 2015 11:08 PM

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's dispute with the federal government over how to pay for a new Hudson River rail tunnel boiled over into a war of words Wednesday between him and President Barack Obama's transportation secretary.

A spokeswoman for Cuomo said Wednesday that Secretary Anthony Foxx was uttering "Washington double speak" when Foxx's spokesman questioned Cuomo's assertion that the federal government had to commit a significant investment in the project before it could move forward.

Cuomo said earlier in the day that the federal government should pay the "lion's share" of the estimated $14 billion tunnel project, which experts say is key to relieving congestion on an existing tunnel and vital to the New York-New Jersey region's future transportation needs.

Cuomo had declined an invitation from Foxx to meet with him and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to discuss the project. Foxx and Christie on Tuesday held a meeting, to which Cuomo's office said it was not invited, and on Wednesday Cuomo reiterated his argument that Washington would have to make a significant investment in the project before the project could move forward.

"Secretary Foxx said it's a crime not to build the tunnel," Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said by email. "He's holding the gun. There's no question New York knows how to build a tunnel but we need the funding. ... The feds have been talking about this for eight years, but have never said what they're willing to put up."

The comments came after Foxx spokesman Jon Romano said the office has made it clear it would do everything it could to move the project forward, but the only way to do that is through "the equitable distribution" of funding responsibility.

"As the governor knows, the federal government doesn't just issue grants," Romano said. "At the present time there isn't a fully defined project or applicant we can even grant the money to."

Romano also noted that Cuomo has "made it clear" he has no interest in meeting with Foxx and Christie to discuss the tunnel.

"As commuters continue to endure serious daily challenges in this region, it's disappointing that this meeting hasn't happened yet," Romano said. "However, Secretary Foxx remains committed to meeting with Governor Cuomo if and when he's ready."

The pugnacious comments from Cuomo's office highlight the difficulties facing the tunnel project, which will need a financial agreement among Washington, New York and New Jersey before it can be built. Cuomo had dismissed earlier proposals from Washington as insufficient, saying the federal government was only willing to extend loans for a tunnel that would be operated by Amtrak and used by New Jersey Transit.

Speaking Wednesday morning on the NY1 cable television news station, Cuomo said he was trying to "provoke" a conversation at the federal level about the need to pay for the tunnel. Recent delays on the existing century-old rail lines under the Hudson have highlighted the need for a new tunnel.

Cuomo said New York will pay its fair share, but only after Washington commits to paying most of the cost.

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Colvin contributed to this story from Derry, New Hampshire.