By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
The current rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York, with its two tubes — one in, one out — is old and was corroded by Superstorm Sandy.
The Gateway project will add another tunnel with two tubes next to it.
The cost estimate is $20 billion, to be split evenly between New York and New Jersey on the one hand and the federal government on the other.
So the officials and transit advocates who gathered at Newark Penn Station this morning were surprised last week when the Trump White House released a 2018 budget plan that canceled out all federal funding for the tunnel.
“The way it appears now, it threatens the $10 billion, clearly,” said Len Resto, president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers.
The funding comes from a Transportation Department program called New Starts.
Four hundred million dollars was slated to go to extending the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line into Englewood.
The ancient Portal Bridge near Secaucus, a weak link in the system, is also slated for replacement.
“If you take a look at it, the Portal Bridge was based on designs from the 1840s and apparently has been called the Achilles heel of the entire Northeast Corridor,” said Port Authority Commissioner Caren Turner.
Two Democratic state senators from Bergen County called the press conference to urge Congress to reverse the president and restore the funds.
“Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York have both come out publicly against the New Start budget cuts, and we are united on a bipartisan basis in urging Republicans and Democrats in our congressional delegation to come together,” said Sen. Bob Gordon.
“We’re getting late in the game and we need a congressional delegation along with our two governors to stand up on this and make loud noises,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
It has officials here scratching their heads that Trump would zero out funding for the Gateway project, given both that he’s a New Yorker and that he’s promised massive new spending on infrastructure.
“For a president who wants to be known as the infrastructure president, it’s indeed unfortunate that the Trump administration budget includes scores of billions of dollars to the defense budget while transportation is forced to the back of the train, or the bus, to conduct bake sales to raise desperately needed funds,” Resto said.
Even just delaying the funding for a year would add to the ultimate cost and risk a system failure.
“If we were to close just one of those two train tunnels, train traffic between New Jersey and New York City would be reduced not by half, but by three quarters. Only six trains per hour rather than the customary 24 trains that we now have, because that one tunnel would be required to handle both incoming and outgoing traffic,” said Regional Plan Association New Jersey Director Mark Lohbauer.
The urgency is real.
“This is the most important infrastructure project in the country,” Gordon said.
The hope is that Congress will see it.
“The president makes a request, but Congress makes the budget,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
New Jersey Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, could play a role.