President Donald Trump, in his new budget this week, puts in zero dollars for the Gateway Tunnel project.
“We all know Donald Trump has been standing in the way,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Tuesday, Schumer and New Jersey’s two U.S. senators expressed their displeasure.
“This project is going to happen. The question is whether or not the Trump administration will work with us to make it happen,” Sen. Bob Menendez said.
“Whatever it takes, we’ll name this the Trump Tunnel if necessary. I don’t care. This is not about ego, This is about the people of the region, it is about the economy of the region, it’s about our nation as a whole,” Sen. Cory Booker said.
The current tunnel is 109 years old. If it were to fail, rail access between New York and New Jersey would be cut by 75 percent.
“What happens if the tunnel goes out? I hope you’re all good swimmers,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett.
At a transportation summit Wednesday organized by the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, Corbett said ultimately the tunnel must be replaced.
“It’s like flying in a DC-9. You go up for recreation, they were a phenomenally well-built aircraft in their day. No one wants to go to Los Angeles in a DC-9. We have a 110-year-old tunnel. To not be doing that is irresponsible,” he said.
He compared a tunnel failure to 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy in terms of its impact on the region.
In the Obama era, the federal government agreed to split the cost with the states, but Trump has reversed that. His Department of Transportation says it’s a local responsibility. It’s widely believed Trump is using Gateway funding as a bludgeon against Schumer.
“I don’t practice psychiatry without a license, so I would just say whatever the game is that’s being played and whatever the motivation is, this project is far too important to the region and the national economy that hopefully at the end of the day, like a Broadway play, there will be a happy ending despite any drama in between,” Corbett said.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer of Bergen County and Peter King of New York said this week they are introducing legislation requiring the Federal Railroad Administration to prepare a doomsday plan should the tunnel fail.
“These are federal assets. The Portal North Bridge and the current tunnel are owned by Amtrak. In fact, one could make an argument, why shouldn’t the federal government pay for all of it?” said Steve Sigmund, chief of outreach for the Gateway Development Corporation. “You have an administration in Washington who has a political battle going on with its opposition party and Gateway is caught up in that political battle. In the meantime, a bipartisan and bistate delegation every year has replaced the zeroing out in the budget that the president has done and put money in the budget for the Northeast Corridor, for Amtrak, that can be accessed by Gateway.”
The states have made a good faith commitment to the project. Between New Jersey, New York and the Port Authority, they have put in or pledged $5.5 billion. If Washington adds to that, it will likely come from Congress, not the president.