Federal transportation official says NY/NJ need to show more ‘leadership’

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

“This is a game changer,” said Bayonne City Council President Sharon Nadrowski.

It was a theme echoed as the federal government said it was giving Bayonne a grant, seed money for what the city calls a major transportation project, a terminal for ferries to cross the Hudson.

Bayonne says it expects to have ferry service from this particular spot about a year from now. It has a lot to do between now and then, but it’s getting $650,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the feds say it’s giving that money because Bayonne has shown a commitment.

“We often at the federal government see local and state partners aiming to shift as much cost as possible to the federal taxpayer, but Bayonne stood up and took real leadership during this process and presented a very responsible application,” said Matthew Kopko, senior adviser for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Kopko is a senior adviser to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Kopko says other planners should follow Bayonne’s lead as the federal government looks for project partners.

Friday, the Gateway Program Development Corporation said the Port Authority was matching Amtrak’s federal $12.5 million to move utilities on Manhattan’s West Side. It would pave the way for construction of another stretch of concrete casing for the Hudson Tunnel Project, also known as the Gateway Project, to replace the century-old tunnels. Gateway has stalled because the Trump administration insists New Jersey and New York have failed to do what Bayonne has done.

“Just to be frank, part of why we’re here celebrating Bayonne is that a lot of people in the ferry application process came in and said I’m going to put in 20 percent of the money ourselves. Bayonne came in and said we’re going to put in 60 percent. Those are the kind of things that we love to see and I think New York and New Jersey should look to that kind of leadership to make progress on Gateway,” Kopko said.

Bayonne concedes it doesn’t know what it will cost to build its ferry terminal. Gateway’s cost keeps rising as transportation advocates grow more concerned everyday about the life and durability of the tunnels.

“I don’t think the federal government is being hesitant at all about providing the money. I think we’re trying to find a responsible, sustainable financing package for the infrastructure project. I mean, when we came into office the Hudson Tunnel was estimated to cost about $8.9 billion. That cost has already ballooned to almost $15 billion. So, we need to really get in and look at the numbers and make sure that we’re doing the right thing so that we’re not going to put in a lot of money and all of a sudden there’s going to be people coming back for more, saying hey we need ten more billion, hey we need ten more billion,” Kopko said. “I think whenever you have something that’s a hundred years old, it’s hard to say that it kind of came out of nowhere because it’s not like the age of the tunnel is exactly a new fact.”

But will the project not get done if the two states don’t come up with a Gateway share that satisfies the Trump administration?

“I think New York and New Jersey will have to find a way to provide more local leadership,” Kopko said.