Gateway in jeopardy as feds deny funding agreement

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

An exchange of letters has touched off real concern about the Gateway Tunnel project. The federal government appears to be walking away from an agreement with New Jersey and New York to fund the project 50-50, federal versus state.

“There is no [50-50] agreement,” writes a federal transit official to a New York state official in a letter dated Friday. “We consider it unhelpful to reference a non-existent ‘agreement’ rather than directly address the responsibility for funding a local project where 9 out of 10 passengers are local transit riders.”

New York’s state budget director wrote back Sunday, “This project does not simply represent a local priority, but rather connects the entire Northeast Corridor and is a critical single point of failure for 10 percent of the GDP of the entire country.”

Gateway Program Development Corporation interim Executive Director John Porcari endorses that view.

“This is a project of national significance. About 10 percent of America’s gross domestic product is at risk here from a single point of failure, a 107-year-old bridge, a 107-year-old tunnel, that were both carrying passengers when the Titanic was under construction. They were both carrying passengers when Orville and Wilbur Wright switched from the Model A to the Model B flyer. It is time to replace the tunnel and the bridge,” said Porcari.

Gateway is a $29 billion project, whose centerpiece is a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey and Penn Station New York.

Phase one is replacement of the Portal Bridge in Kearny for $1.6 billion and the new Hudson Rail Tunnel at a cost of $9 billion. The Obama administration agreed to 50-50 funding in 2015.

That framework was discussed in August at a meeting in the White House between President Trump, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo and the New Jersey and New York congressional delegations.

Last month, New York and New Jersey announced how they’ll fund their shares. Now the Federal Transit Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is balking at splitting the costs 50-50.

Advocates like the head of the Regional Plan Association are concerned.

“What I suspect is going on really is that the Trump administration is coming out with a very hard bargaining position. And my hope is that over the next couple of months, there will be active conversations and some kind of compromise and some agreement can be worked out. But they’re not offering much hope of that right now, at least with these opening statements,” said RPA President Tom Wright.

Some see this as the Trump administration rejecting a 50-50 framework agreed to in 2015 just because that was an Obama administration deal. Others hope it’s all just posturing as a part of a larger discussion about overhauling America’s infrastructure in 2018.