New Jersey Ready to Start Paying Hudson Tunnel Cost Early, Murphy Says

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said New Jersey is prepared to start paying its share of a potential early start to a $11.6 billion Hudson River rail tunnel to Manhattan.

“This is a big deal,” Murphy said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Tuesday, a day after U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he was pushing for a 2022 start rather than 2023. Murphy said he had been “back and forth over the weekend” with Schumer on the pitch.

“New Jersey is ready to go,” Murphy said. New Jersey and New York have together pledged to pay 50% of the cost to build the link and rehabilitate the flood-damaged two-track tunnel built, in 1910, that is used by Amtrak regional rail and New Jersey Transit commuter trains. The project, Murphy said, was “long overdue.”

Amtrak says the existing North River Tunnel is safe but increasingly unreliable. If it were to close, it would disrupt the Northeast Corridor, the nation’s busiest passenger-train route, which serves a region accounting for 20% of gross domestic product.

Construction was delayed by former President Donald Trump, who said federal taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up half the project’s cost. President Joe Biden, a longtime Amtrak booster from more than three decades of commuting between Washington and Delaware as a U.S. senator, has vowed to provide funding.

Budget Signed

After a tour of the tunnel on Monday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and members of the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations, Schumer said that “things will move very quickly” once the money is appropriated.

Murphy on Tuesday signed a $46.4 billion budget, the biggest in state history, and included a record-high $6.9 billion payment to the state’s underfunded public pension. For the first time in 26 years, that contribution will hit the actuarially recommended minimum, totaling $6.4 billion. Murphy added $500 million to that payment as a result of unexpectedly high revenue of $5.1 billion.

“This is a budget that continues our investment in a stronger, fairer and now more resilient New Jersey,” Murphy said. In addition to higher spending on education, health and infrastructure, he said, the spending plan was designed to help reduce “the inequities that this pandemic has laid bare.”

Travel Ban

Murphy also commented on Hong Kong’s ban beginning Thursday on passenger flights from Britain, where Covid-19 cases overwhelmingly are tied to the highly contagious Delta variant. Murphy before his retirement lived in Hong Kong as head of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Asia operations in the 1990s.

New Jersey and New York were hit early and hard by Covid-19 starting in March 2020 as infected travelers arrived via the region’s three international airports. Murphy said the step that Hong Kong is taking isn’t necessary here, in part because New Jersey reached its 70% vaccination goal on June 18, almost two weeks ahead of its own deadline.

Still, he said, the state continues to press for vaccinations.

“The equity piece is not where it needs to be, particularly as you point out, in Black and Brown communities,” Murphy said. “It is why, as we speak, we have a community corps knocking on doors in 22 communities up and down the state. Those communities are overwhelmingly communities of color. We will stay at it until we get the equity issues fully addressed.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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