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Cuomo pitches rail tunnel to Trump in ‘productive’ meeting

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he and President Donald Trump had a “productive” meeting Wednesday to discuss one of the Northeast’s most pressing transportation needs: a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

While Trump made no assurances about federal funding for the project, Cuomo said, the Republican president was receptive and said he wants to find a way forward. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly also attending the lunch meeting.

“The president got it,” said Cuomo, a Democrat, noting Trump’s background in construction and development in New York City. “I think in many ways this situation is bigger than politics.”

Local officials and transportation experts have warned for decades about the need for a new tunnel to carry Amtrak and commuter rail service between New York and New Jersey. The current century-old Amtrak tunnel now operates at capacity during rush hours and suffered extensive saltwater damage in 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. Amtrak officials say either of the tunnel’s two tubes could fail in the next 10 to 15 years, paralyzing train travel between Boston and Washington on what is known as the Northeast Corridor.

A new tunnel, with an estimated price tag of $13 billion, would take several years to build.

The two states had pledged to pay half the estimated $13 billion price tag under a deal worked out with the Obama administration. The Trump administration now says there was never any agreement. In March, Chao told a House committee that Trump was moving to block funding for the project because New York and New Jersey weren’t putting up enough of their own money.

Cuomo said Trump expressed concerns about the project turning into an expensive government boondoggle — worries Cuomo said he shares.

The solution, Cuomo said, is to use a new legal corporation to direct the project on behalf of the two states and the federal government. The corporation could carefully manage bids from private construction companies to ensure the project is completed on time and on budget, he said.

He cited his administration’s work on other massive projects, including the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson and major renovations to LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.

While they have disagreed on many of Trump’s policies since he became president, the two men struck a friendlier tone Wednesday. In an interview with The New York Post on Wednesday, Trump said he has a “good relationship” with the governor of his home state. He mentioned video footage sent by Cuomo last month that shows the state of the existing tunnel’s disrepair.

“In New York, it’s a very big deal and … we’re going to look at it,” Trump said of the project. “It’s a very expensive project, as you know. Probably the world’s most expensive project.”

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