ALBANY -- The governors of New York and New Jersey offered to pay half the cost of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River -- a move the Obama administration called a "big step forward" in the long-delayed project.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama making the offer and asking the federal government to approve grants to cover half the project's cost, estimated at between $14 billion and $20 billion.

The offer represented a quick turnaround from Cuomo, who a month earlier balked at committing to the project, saying "it's not my tunnel." Cuomo Tuesday said the proposal was an effort to break the "logjam" after a month of bickering among the states and the feds.

"This is our way of getting things moving," Cuomo told reporters. "There's a certain fairness to saying: We'll split the costs."

The governors' proposal includes a request for a federal grant to cover 50 percent of the cost of what's known as the Gateway project. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey "will take responsibility for developing a funding plan for the other half," the governors wrote. The authority's funding plan wasn't detailed, but could include a federal low-interest loan, they said.

The Obama administration not only applauded the offer but also said it would seek to expedite any environmental reviews to get the project going.

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"Today the governors of New York and New Jersey have taken a big step forward: they've come to the table," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "We will engage with local officials immediately to initiate the work necessary to assign more reliable cost figures and eligibility for federal grants within existing programs. We will work towards the goal of an equitable split between the states and the federal government."

Foxx singled out Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) who he said "issued a clarion call for New York to come to the table and outlined a broad vision to advance the Gateway project." In August, Schumer had called on the two states to create a nonprofit development agency to finance the project.

"Finally, there is light at the beginning of the tunnel," Schumer said in a statement, calling the governors' offer "significant and welcome progress."

In 2010, Christie canceled a tunnel project, citing project costs. Last month, Cuomo said the federal government should pay the "lion's share" of the cost and balked at committing New York to the project, contending it would be owned by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

The Obama administration had criticized Cuomo for not attending a meeting with Christie and Foxx to discuss the project.

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The push for a new tunnel has picked up steam after delays in the existing one -- which Amtrak has said has a life expectancy of about 20 years. Construction of a new tunnel would take at least 10 years, Cuomo said. The governor added it was too early to estimate how fares would change.