TRENTON, N.J. (AP/ CBSNewYork) -- New Jersey's two U.S. senators are touting a proposal to build a new "Gateway Tunnel'' to boost needed rail passenger services between New York City and New Jersey.
Amtrak is proposing to spend $50 million to begin preliminary engineering and design on two new rail tunnels. It said it will seek additional funds from New Jersey, New York State, New York City and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority. It hopes to finish the project by 2020.
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Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both Democrats, said in a press release that the tunnel would amount to a new Trans-Hudson rail tunnel, the monumental project that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie canceled in October because of the expense. The two senators held a press conference with Amtrak officials Monday at Hilton Newark Penn Station.
"The Gateway Project is a vision for our future that will shorten commutes, create jobs, increase property values and grow New Jersey's economy," Sen. Lautenberg said.
Christie killed the plans to build a second commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River, a project that would have been the United States' biggest public works project if it had gone forward. The cost was an estimated $9 billion to $14 billion.
However, on Monday Christie at least sounded open-minded about the new proposal.
"We'll see if it's good for the taxpayers of this state. So well see. But as we sit here today, now, if they ask me for a check today, the answer is no," Christie told CBS 2's John Metaxas.
Lautenberg said New Jersey is facing a transportation crisis and said something needs to be done about it immediately.
"When the ARC Tunnel was cancelled, it was clear to me that we couldn't just throw up our hands and wait years to find another solution," he said.
"We say this new Trans-Hudson tunnel is right for New Jersey and right for the region and its future," Sen. Robert Menendez said.
The existing 100-year old rail tunnels into midtown Manhattan are already operating at capacity during rush hour, and ridership is expected to double in the next two decades, officials said.
Representatives for the two senators said that the Gateway route would follow approximately the nine-mile path from Secaucus to New York City that had been proposed for the derailed project. But the Gateway route would connect to new tracks in Penn Station, rather than end under the city's West 34th Street.
"We've run out of capacity at Penn Station and that's where people want to get to," Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman said.
It also would allow for 13 additional NJ Transit trains per hour and eight additional Amtrak trains. The Gateway Project is expected to increase NJ Transit commuter rail capacity into New York by 65 percent. Proponents of the project would have to find federal and local funding for it.
Amtrak projects that the entire Gateway Tunnel project could be completed in 2020 at an estimated cost of $13.5 billion.
The Trans-Hudson tunnel was in the planning stages for decades. Last year, federal authorities mailed New Jersey a bill for $271 million for engineering and construction work done on the tunnel before Christie canceled the project. Christie is fighting the payment and has filed an appeal.
New Jersey residents seemed largely enthused by the idea, provided, of course, it doesn't hit them too hard financially.
"It takes a long time to get back and forth. Another tunnel can't hurt. Anything to help the commuter," Bayonne resident Paul Witkowski said.
"Why not? If it makes my commute easier and faster, why not?" added Montclair's Steven Kayode.
"I think it's costing New Jersey way too much money, so we shouldn't do it," said Mary Piton of Mahwah.
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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