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 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 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris 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. The idea was first floated by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., 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 get congressional approval. "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."
While the plan must be finalized and approved, officials in both states and in Washington hailed the letter as evidence of progress. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called it a "sign of tangible progress."
After receiving the letter, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said federal officials would "engage with local officials immediately" to refine cost estimates and assess the availability of existing funding sources.
"Today the governors of New York and New Jersey have taken a big step forward: They've come to the table," Foxx said.
Christie scrapped an earlier tunnel project in 2010 over cost overruns. Cuomo said as recently as last month that he wanted a promise from the federal government that it would pay "the lion's share" of the project's cost.
"They haven't come forward. We're not getting anywhere, we're just in that Washington finger-pointing game," Cuomo told reporters Tuesday in Manhattan. "... This is our way of trying to get things moving. Let's split it — you'll pay half and we'll pay half."
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 second tunnel have been beset with disputes over how to divide the project's cost.
"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.
Each day, 200,000 passengers use the existing tunnel, which has a single track in two tubes, one for either direction. Amtrak officials say that within 20 years they 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 put pressure on other commuting options while disrupting the entire Northeast Corridor, which is used by 750,000 passengers daily in eight states.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in New York City contributed to this report.