House passes budget bill without specific Gateway funding

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

“It may not be everything that everyone has dreamed of, but it’s a major step in the right direction with a long way to go,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.

Murphy welcomed the news: in a game of political chicken over federal funding for the Gateway train tunnel, New Jersey scored a partial victory Thursday. The House voted to approve a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that includes $540 million for Gateway. This, after the president originally vowed to kill any federal dollars for the critical infrastructure project.

“This project is too important, not just to New Jersey, but to New York, to the Northeast Corridor, I would argue to our national economy and our national security,” Murphy added.

In 2015, New Jersey and New York agreed with the Obama administration to pay for half the $30 billion Gateway project with a 50 percent federal match. New tunnels would permit much-needed repairs to the existing, century-old structures damaged by Superstorm Sandy. But that deal became a political wedge issue for Trump as he battled Democrats like New York’s Chuck Schumer over immigration and other issues.

“I think this is controversy between the president and Sen. Schumer, and I certainly would encourage Sen. Schmuer to make sure that the president’s nominations can move forward in the Senate of the United States. I do think that the Gateway tunnel project is of importance, not only to our region, but to the entire nation,” said Rep. Leonard Lance.

Gateway proponent Rep. Bill Pascrell noted, “This is not the perfect deal. But it’s a start, and it will get shovels in the ground on a new tunnel. I have concerns that the administration may try again to block Gateway. The delegation will have to keep the pressure on.”

Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer said, “Securing the gateway to one-fifth of America’s economy is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue.”

“The great thing about this, but for the curve balls the president had been throwing in the past couple of weeks, this was never partisan,” said Murphy.

But it remains very partisan for Trump. The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday said the bill, “… removes preferential treatment for the New York and New Jersey Gateway projects, including complete removal of all language that earmarked or advantaged these local transit project in earlier versions considered by Congress.”

The bill doesn’t even specifically mention Gateway, most of the funding, $388 million, would come from Amtrak’s budget, while $153 million would come from a Federal Transit Administration grant. That’s 40 percent less than New Jersey and New York had hoped for, but Gateway can compete for more funding through the New Starts Capital Investment grants.

The Trump administration, however, says Gateways projects no longer qualify for grants, and that the president controls Amtrak’s Board of Directors. The implication: New Jersey’s got little to celebrate, and the battle over Gateway continues.