Approved spending bill includes funding for Gateway project, but on Trump’s terms

Posted On Mon, March 26, 2018 By

Posted On Mon, March 26, 2018 By In Policy, Transportation

The path for a future Hudson River tunnel is being preserved at Hudson Yards, photo via Amtrak

Update 3/26/18: While Congress on Thursday approved the $1.3 trillion spending bill, the package does not include direct funding for the Gateway tunnel project. Instead, the bill provides $650 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and allocates over $2 billion in available grants for which the Gateway Program Development Corp. can apply. President Donald Trump, who threatened to veto the spending bill if funding for Gateway was included, and his administration will remain in control of Gateway’s funding fate. The Department of Transportation (DOT) said in a statement that the bill “removes preferential treatment for the New York and New Jersey Gateway projects.” And DOT board members, appointed by the president, review all federal grants to Amtrak, as Bloomberg reported.

After months of back-and-forth negotiations among politicians, the Gateway tunnel project might get another chance at survival. The project, which would construct a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and repair an existing one, could potentially receive up to $541 million in a tentative $1.3 trillion spending bill drafted by Congress on Wednesday, according to the New York Times. Although the bill does not mention Gateway by name, provides way less than the $900 million planners sought for the project, and has been opposed by both President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan, the tentative spending bill has made supporters more hopeful about the project’s future. The bill will go to a vote in the House on Thursday, followed by the Senate.

Considered one of the most critical infrastructure projects in the country, Gateway has garnered bipartisan support, especially from New Jersey and New York officials. Late last year, Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie announced a deal to fund the two states’ share, for a total of $5.5 billion out of the $12.7 billion needed to fix and build the tunnels. In total, the Gateway Program requires roughly $24 billion, which includes an expansion of Penn Station and new bridges in the region.

President Obama’s administration had pledged to split the cost of the project with the two states in 2015. But the Trump White House has not been receptive to using federal money to fund the project. An official at the Federal Transit Administration called the prior deal “a non-existent ’50/50′ agreement between USDOT, New York, and New Jersey.”

The draft of the spending bill includes more funding for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service, and an anonymous source told Bloomberg that at least $388 million of it could be contributed to Gateway. There is also $153 million in grant and formula funds that NY and NJ could apply for, but would be unlikely to receive as the Trump administration oversees that funding more directly.

More than a century old, the two-track tunnel was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy and urgently requires repairs. All Amtrak trains that run between Washington and Boston pass through one of the single-track tunnels. Plus, the tunnel is the only intercity passenger rail that links NY and NJ, a necessity for more than 200,000 daily commuters.

Although its funding remains up in the air, the Gateway Development Corporation, a group that formed in 2015 to oversee the project, has pushed ahead with other components of Gateway. For example, replacing the 100-year-old swing bridge over the Hackensack River has begun.

“Moving forward on the Portal Bridge is really critical right now,” Thomas Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association, told the Times. “Any time lost with this first step essentially translates on the back end to the whole thing.”

[Via NY Times]

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