No-one disagrees that the 107-year-old North River Tunnel, carrying thousands of Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers between New York City and New Jersey each day, could use some renovations.
But despite numerous calls by local elected officials to Washington to fund a proposed, and long-stalled, “Gateway Project” – which would rehabilitate the tunnel, add a new one, and replace the decrepit Portal Bridge – the Trump Administration has been tight fisted in allocating funds for the $30 billion endeavor.
The administration last year killed a funding proposal by former President Barack Obama, in which New York and New Jersey would’ve paid half the project cost, with the government covering the rest.
The project, which involved some construction in Hudson County, actually got started around 2009 as the ARC Tunnel, but was canceled in 2010 after former Gov. Chris Christie said there wasn’t enough money in the state budget.
On Tuesday, Sep. 4, Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Albio Sires, and others gathered in Secaucus’ Laurel Hill Park near the Portal Bridge, to push Trump to support the project.
“We are ready for the Trump Administration to step up to the plate with us,” Murphy said. “We are ready to do Gateway together. This is not about politics – it’s always about doing what’s right for our region and our country.”
The project would increase rider capacity along the Northeast Corridor.
So far, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority has allocated $600 million to replace the Portal Bridge, Murphy said. New Jersey, New York, and the Port Authority have earmarked $5.5 billion for a $12.7 billion Hudson Tunnel Project, which is one phase of the overall Gateway program, focusing solely on the tunnel work.
In March, Menendez successfully pushed the Trump Administration to include $541 million for Gateway in an omnibus spending bill. However, Trump has also downgraded ratings for both the Hudson Tunnel Project and Portal Bridge, impacting eligibility for federal funding. Menendez again took aim at Trump over his hesitation to help out.
“Like we’ve seen time and time again, reality is taking a back seat to the president’s political vendettas,” he said. ”He’s ignoring the national, economic benefits this project will generate.”
He said the president appears to want to kill the project by trying to eliminate the New Starts Program, which annually allocates $2.3 billion in federal funds to rail projects nationwide, and blocking federal loans for the project.
“It should be clear to the president by now that the Gateway project will be built with or without his support,” Menendez said. He also urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve the project’s environmental review, which they failed to do by the original March 31 deadline.
Sires recalled a meeting he attended last September at the White House to discuss Gateway and the Portal Bridge with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former NJ. Gov. Chris Christie, and other officials.
They pitched the project’s importance to the president.
“I left there very confident it was behind us,” Sires said. “Little did I know they were BS’ing us.”
Later on, the Trump Administration released a letter, saying the projects were “no longer of national significance,” Sires said. He mentioned that sometimes, the rails on the Portal Bridge don’t lock back in place after it closes, requiring workers to bang them back in place with sledgehammers.
The Northeast Rail Corridor, which uses the North River tunnel and Portal Bridge, supports 20 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, or $4 trillion. It is the most heavily used rail corridor in the country, seeing 450 daily and commuter intercity trains, and 200,000 daily trips.
The Portal Bridge is a critical piece of that puzzle. In March, the bridge was stuck in the open position during rush hour, which shut down rail service between NY and NJ. This year alone, over 140 trains have been cancelled, delaying almost 100,000 passengers, Murphy said. Should the corridor shut down, according to Menendez, it would cost $100 million daily.
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