U.S. senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Cory Booker, D-N.J, pressed the Trump administration Monday to approve federal funding for the Gateway Tunnel Project to increase tunnel capacity between Manhattan and New Jersey.
The Democratic lawmakers said at a Manhattan press conference that President Trump’s lack of commitment in his 2018 budget puts the major infrastructure initiative at risk. The White House’s proposed spending plan cuts $760 million in federal funds for Amtrak and would end the $2.3 billion per year federal New Starts grant program slated to finance half of the project, which would add two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River. The cuts also put in limbo a planned replacement of the Portal North Bridge over New Jersey’s Hackensack River that is considered integral component of project.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elain Chao ignited further commitment concerns for Booker and Schumer when she withdrew the DOT from the Gateway Development Corporation in late June. The entity was formed last year while President Obama was still in office through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to oversee financing efforts. Costs to build a new Hudson River tunnel and fix the existing one damaged heavily during Hurricane Sandy could number nearly $13 billion up from previous estimates, according to a July 6 report released by the Federal Railroad Administration and New Jersey Transit.
“This is the first real test as whether President Trump will put his money where his mouth is and fund infrastructure here in New York and throughout America,” said Schumer at the press conference.
Booker emphasized that a loss of service from the Hudson River tunnels that service Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor could cost the U.S. economy $100 million from productivity losses. He said Amtrak’s major repair work that began Monday at Manhattan’s Penn Station impacting service on NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road highlight the increased importance of jump-starting the Gateway project.
“One day of the Northeast Corridor being down, just one day, costs about $100 million in productivity,” said Booker. “Imagine what it would be like to have those problems for more than a year if we don’t invest in the infrastructure.”
Trump's press office did not immediately respond for comment on federal funding commitments for Gateway. A Department of Transportation spokesperson said the decision to withdraw as a trustee from the Gateway Development Corporation board was a "procedural matter" to avoid potential conflict of interests that could arise while the project seeks federal assistance.
"The decision underscores the Department’s commitment to ensuring there is no appearance of prejudice or partiality in favor of these projects ahead of hundreds of other projects nationwide," said the spokesperson. "The decision to resign from the Board should not be misinterpreted as any form of decision about the multiple individual projects promoted by the Gateway Development Corporation. DOT will apply the appropriate statutory criteria, and will evaluate projects individually on their merits to advance and renew America's infrastructure."
U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., introduced a transportation appropriation bill Monday that would allocate $900 million toward the Gateway project. The Republican lawmaker said $500 million would be earmarked for “rail state of good repair grants” from the Federal Railroad Administration with an addition $400 million tied to the Hudson River tunnel and Portal North Bridge construction funding.