Lawmakers from the region say before the president’s about face, they thought they had his support for the project, but Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told House committees that lawmakers mistook politeness for support.
“There was no commitment from that meeting. As I mentioned, it was a cordial, respectful, courteous meeting,” she testified. “There’s been so much misinformation about this, I’m so pleased to be given this opportunity to clarify.”
In another House hearing, Chao pushed back against lawmakers trying to pin the administration down on funding.
“A campaign is being waged in the public arena to bully the department to pressure the federal government to fund these projects…there is a process…we are not arguing about whether this project should go forward,” she asserted.
Chao says that the states reliance on federal loans to come up with their end of the money amounts to their putting up almost nothing to fund the projects. Gateway supporters say she’s being disingenuous because the loans are being paid off by local taxpayers and commuters. It’s a flimsy rationale, they say, and one that could lead to an economic cataclysm if one or both of the current tunnels have to be taken out of service.
“I do not understand why anybody, for political reasons, would want to do a serious self-inflicted wound,” said Booker. “If the country is the body, the jugular vein, when it comes to transportation, is the Northeast Corridor right here, running through our state. To sever the jugular here, would cause undue damage to the entire country.”
Speaker Paul Ryan warned House members that the president will veto a trillion dollar omnibus spending package if it includes funds for the Gateway Project. Then, last Friday, the Portal Bridge got stuck again, causing a massive, hours-long, rush-hour backups of NJ Transit and Amtrak trains. For supporters of the project, which includes all of New Jersey’s Republican congressmen, it was right on cue.
“Monday morning’s Portal Bridge malfunction is further proof that leaders across all levels of government must come together and get the Gateway Tunnel Project done,” said Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur in a statement. “This project is of critical importance to our nation’s economy …”
“We need Gateway. We need these two new trans-Hudson tunnels,” insisted Sen. Bob Menendez. “We need the Portal Bridge redone. This is about 20 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States that is generated from the region. This is a project of national significance.”
Members of both delegations say they want another meeting with the president. But, the president has shown no interest in such a gathering. Meanwhile, the deadline for the spending bill is Friday.