Transit advocates: President courts calamity by holding back Gateway funding

If you live around here, you live with the nagging fear that, at some point, maybe even soon, one, or both, of the ancient tunnels under the Hudson River will be forced to close. Even that best case scenario, as opposed to a collapse of one or both of the tunnels, would cost the region more than $100 million a day, according to some estimates, an economic nightmare the likes of which our region has probably never seen. So, why is the president telling the speaker of the House to not include funding for the Gateway Tunnel project in the upcoming spending bill?

“This is a project that was moving full steam ahead and being done in a bipartisan way,” noted Sen. Cory Booker last week. “As the ranking member of Committee, we got a Mississippi Republican to partner with us to make these funds available to make this project happen. It was moving full speed ahead until the Trump administration.”

But, in December, the administration threw its first curve ball, a letter from a Transportation Deputy Administrator to the New York budget director.

“There is no such agreement,” says the letter. “We consider it unhelpful to reference a nonexistent ‘agreement.’

Dismissed at the time by Booker and others as a bargaining position, it’s now been followed up by reports that the president is actively lobbying against the funding.

“It’s very disheartening,” added Martin Robins, who’s been a transportation expert for over 30 years. “I can’t believe that they can embark on such a wrongful course.”

Robins is the founding director of the Alan M. Vorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, and was the deputy executive director of NJ Transit. Most recently he served on Gov. Phil Murphy’s transportation transition team. He says the economies of both New Jersey and New York would witness a calamitous blow if the Gateway project doesn’t move forward.

“New Jersey has been a tremendous provider of workers into the New York economy, which has been booming now, more or less, for the last 30 years,” he said. “We’re standing here in the Westfield Train Station. It’s filled to the brim. The town has been doing well, all the towns in New Jersey have been doing well. And I foresee this decision that the president in making having a very negative effect on the New Jersey real estate economy.”

That’s close to a quarter of the state’s economy. Imagine your lost SALT deductions piling on top of your plummeting property values because, who wants to live in New Jersey if you can’t get to your job in New York?

“It would lead to a downward spiral in New Jersey. That really is a very distressing possibility,” added Robins.

Booker tried to sound hopeful, “Again, as we know with the president, it’s not about what he says all the time, it’s about what he does,” he said.

And the latest message he’s sent to the region is “you’re on your own” and that’s a lonely place to be when you’re looking for helping hands.