By Brenda Flanagan
“I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the U.S.,” said President Donald Trump.
Trump envisions a grand rebuilding program, but the native New Yorker’s first budget proposal kills initial funding for the metro area’s most crucial transportation project: the Gateway tunnels under the Hudson River.
“Well, not funding this does have immediate impacts,” said John Porcari, interim director of the Gateway Program Development Corporation.
Porcari heads the Gateway project and says without federal dollars, it all grinds to a screeching halt — at a time when engineers urge immediate action to replace salt-corroded, century-old tunnel tubes and the crumbling Portal North Bridge over the Passaic River.
“Think of this as one of the biggest infrastructure potholes in America. We’ll have construction activity underway this year if it’s funded. There’s a huge opportunity lost if that has to be postponed,” Porcari said.
“My reaction is, I’m stunned,” said Martin Robins.
Mass transit guru Robins says the Trump budget nixes any new projects in a transportation funding program called New Starts. Local casualties include $400 million for extending the Bergen Hudson Light Rail system and the fed’s 50 percent share of Gateway’s $20 billion price tag.
“Under the president’s budget they’re now stopped. Only projects that have full funding grant agreements — which unfortunately do not include any in the New York area right now — would proceed. And that is, just snuffs the light out of hope in terms of transit investment,” Martin said.
Politicians in New York and New Jersey criticized the budget cuts. Gov. Chris Christie’s office said in a statement “…he will do all he can to fight any federal funding cut to this project of regional and national importance.” Sen. Bob Menendez called it “irresponsible and short-sighted.”
“For me, this budget is dead on arrival. It does not reflect the values that I believe New Jerseyans have and want to see in their national budget,” he said. “We will have major, major fights over this because this cannot be where we’re headed.”
A recent Amtrak report estimates Gateway could return $4 for every dollar invested. But political wrangling could stall momentum developed under the Obama administration.
And if there are extended delays, “All I can think about is Superstorm Sandy and those chemicals eating away at the walls of the tunnel and the electrical systems in the tunnel,” Martin said.
“It’s a project that is essentially replacing a single point of failure for 200,000 commuters a day, 450 trains and 10 percent of America’s GDP. So we think the urgency of the project speaks for itself,” Porcari said.
Transportation advocates say nature’s clock is ticking on those old tunnels. If they have to take one down for significant repairs, think about rush hour with a tunnel out of commission.