Funding deal disappears, casting doubt on future of the Gateway Project

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

A “big step backwards” is how long-time transportation advocate Martin Robins describes a federal letter to New York and New Jersey about funding the Gateway Project, the two-track tunnel for Amtrak and NJ Transit trains that go under the Hudson River.

The Federal Transit Administration wrote it has serious concerns about the revised plan. Last month, New York sent a letter to Washington requesting the Trump Administration through grants and loans pay 100 percent, instead of 83 percent, of the so-called Hudson Tunnel project. The feds noted it’s “a move toward greater federal dependency.”

The FTA says while there had been talk of the Obama Administration and the states splitting the cost 50-50, there is no agreement and the FTA calls it “unhelpful” to refer to a non-existent agreement, instead of addressing “the responsibility for funding a local project where 9 out of 10 passengers are local transit riders.” The FTA says assuming this project would get $5 billion in federal grants “lacks recognition” of money needed for other projects across the country.

The states’ updated plans lowers the project cost from $14.9 billion to $11.1 billion and the feds say it does not address rehabilitating the two old, crumbling tunnels which was the reason for the new project. The Trump Administration says “we question the decision to ignore any funding commitment to that critical component, and to omit billions in other costs previously acknowledged to be part of the overall project cost.”

Martin Robins is the director emeritus of the Voorhees Transportation Center and says it’s a very disappointing and mocking letter.

“I’m baffled. I’m just totally baffled by … I’ve never, never in my career seen a letter that was like this. You know, so dismissive and in many ways insulting and sets the parties back many, many months,” said Robins. “What it reminded me of was Trump’s constant refusal to accept any accomplishment by President Obama and it sort of threw back at the states that they were foolish to think that anything that Obama had negotiated would be acceptable to this president.”

Robins speculates that maybe this is a ploy to get Sens. Booker and Schumer on board when the administration details its infrastructure plan this year. In a dispute over funding in 2010, Gov. Christie canceled the Access to the Region’s Core or, ARC, tunnel project.

Right now, the clock is ticking on the life of the aging tubes with some engineers predicting they have 10 to 15 years of life left.

“We’re already losing time since those engineers estimates were made, so it’s something to be greatly concerned about and not to trifle about existing agreements, non-existing agreements, President Obama’s solution — all that seems to me be putting the region at-risk. I haven’t seen anything that the president has ever said about infrastructure that ever really addressed this kind of project, and to me, it’s very disheartening and very risky and with each passing day the project falls further and further behind,” said Robins.

The FTA says it understands the importance of the Gateway Project and it remains open to paths that would enable it.