Trump’s DOT stalling for revenge, say backers of NY-NJ project

The agency is accused of stalling Amtrak’s Gateway project because of Democratic opposition to a Mexico border wall

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., conducts a news conference after the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators from New Jersey and New York accused the Trump administration of stalling Amtrak’s Gateway project linking their states as revenge for Democratic opposition to a Mexico border wall. One said a deputy transportation secretary lied about the project, and that could hurt his nomination to serve in the Justice Department.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen, who has been nominated for deputy attorney general, said Monday there was no funding for Gateway in the fiscal 2020 budget or in the fiscal 2019 appropriations package that Trump signed in February to end a standoff over the wall.

“Those transit projects are local responsibilities and elected officials from New York and New Jersey are the ones accountable for them,” Rosen said.

Rosen said Gateway is not eligible for federal funding because the states have not put up their own money.

“The money is there, we’re just awaiting a signature, plain and simple,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a news conference outside the Capitol with Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, both New Jersey Democrats. “The only thing holding that back is pique, anger, revenge, whatever you want to call it, a bad emotion that the president seems to have which will hurt New York, New Jersey and the whole economy.”

The senators said they would add language to this year’s appropriation for the Department of Transportation ensuring that states that start projects before a federal commitment is made will be reimbursed when federal dollars become available.

“Both the New York and New Jersey governors support this language and say they would be willing to be forthcoming in putting the additional money in to get us going until we have a new president. Hopefully that will be soon enough,” Schumer said.

Menendez said the two states and the a bistate authority have pledged more money than other states whose projects got higher ratings for funding eligibility from the Federal Transit Administration. He said Rosen has a bias against mass transit.

“I don't know how this guy's going to be the deputy attorney general with lies like that,” Menendez said at a news conference outside the Capitol with Schumer and Booker. “I can't wait for his appearance before the Judiciary Committee so he can be asked questions by Sen. Booker.”

Gateway calls for replacing the Portal Bridge in the New Jersey Meadowlands and a two-track tunnel under the Hudson River. Both have been in use since 1910 and need replacement, especially after Superstorm Sandy flooded the tunnel in 2012.

The tunnel itself handles 450 trains a day, most of them NJ Transit commuter trains into and out of New York City.

NJ Transit has pledged to bond $600 million to cover half the cost of replacing the Portal Bridge, which is furthest along in the approval process.

Amtrak, the federal passenger railroad company, has said the tunnel could fail within the decade. The failure of either structure would disrupt traffic on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston. It also would cause significant gridlock around New York City that could depress local economic activity to the point it affects the national economy, according to advocates.

“We are on the brink of a national crisis where a region that is an economic engine for our country could fall into a traffic Armageddon, a transportation Armageddon like we have never seen before,” said Booker, who is vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump’s re-election in 2020.

He called for the states and DOT to work together.

“Whatever it takes. We’ll name this the Trump tunnel if necessary, I don’t care,” Booker said.

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