Amtrak and New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor–that which connects the state to Manhattan via the Hudson River tunnels–creates more than $50 billion in economic activity annually. And the region as a whole is home to 30 percent of all U.S. jobs, amounting to $3 trillion a year for the economy. But despite Donald Trump’s eagerness to both stimulate the economy and bring jobs back from overseas, he seems unphased by the dire need to construct a new rail tunnel to replace those built in 1910 that suffered major damage during Hurricane Sandy. According to Politico, in a meeting yesterday with New York and New Jersey Republicans, Speaker Paul Ryan made it clear that he will not include the $30 billion Gateway Tunnel project in the upcoming $1 trillion+ omnibus spending package if it means Trump will veto the bill, claiming that the President can’t stop talking about his opposition to what’s largely considered the most important infrastructure project in the nation.
As a recent Bloomberg article explained, “In 2014, Amtrak estimated that the passage had up to 20 years of service left. It needs an overhaul that will require each tube to be taken out of service for 18 months. Closing just one would reduce capacity to six trains per hour, a 75 percent cut.” And when you consider that 200,000 Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers a day use the tubes, these figures are alarming. Realizing the dire situation, in 2015, the Obama administration committed to funding half of the project’s cost, with the remainder coming from New Jersey and New York.
Previously, the Trump administration committed $900 million for the Gateway project, but this past September, the house voted against the proposal, citing a house ban on “earmarks,” more specifically federal funds put towards local programs, as the reason. At the time Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) said, “If this earmark stands, then we send a clear message to the states: Neglect your infrastructure and Washington will bail you out. This isn’t about Amtrak funding. This is about funding for a single project in New Jersey that the state itself wouldn’t fund in 2010.”
But those on the other side of the issue remain steadfast in their belief that this is in no way a “local” issue when it will affect the economy of the entire country.
In response to the news, Governor Cuomo sent out the following statement:
Reports that President Trump and Speaker Ryan are refusing to include funding for the Gateway Tunnel project in the federal budget are mindboggling. It is unconscionable that the President, who claims to prioritize infrastructure, is trying to stop the single most important infrastructure project in the country.
The long-overdue new tunnel is essential to New York’s economic future and to the long term vitality of the entire Northeast Corridor, which represents 20 percent of the national economy. His baseless opposition to this project is hurtling the region toward economic disaster.
New York and New Jersey have already stepped up to the plate and committed to fund our share of the project. If the federal government fails to uphold its end of the agreement, the President will have to answer to the commuters, travelers and 51 million people across the Northeast who rely on this critical transit corridor.”
I am sure there are politics at work here but I am also sure there are other venues to play politics that don’t jeopardize the future of the Northeast United States.
In yesterday’s meeting, Ryan also noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is against including Gateway in the omnibus package. However, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, both of whom have been extremely vocal about their support for Gateway, will be among those writing the spending bill. New York representative Peter King, one of a group of Republicans advocating for Gateway money, told Politico that “[Ryan] said if we can find a way to do it that the president will accept, he has no opposition to it at all.” The spending package is expected to come before Congress next week ahead of the March 23rd deadline.
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