‘Productive’ Talk, but No Deal Between Trump and Cuomo on Hudson Tunnel

By Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Patrick McGeehan

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Nov. 28, 2018

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said his meeting with President Trump to discuss the Gateway project tunnel under the Hudson River was productive. But there was no deal over funding.

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He made a video to show President Trump how a critical tunnel under the Hudson River is falling apart. He flew down to Washington to make his case in person — again.

But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York left Wednesday’s lunch meeting at the White House empty-handed, without a promise of funding from Mr. Trump for what is arguably the most important infrastructure project in the Northeast.

Still, Mr. Cuomo said he was optimistic, and that the president understood the urgency of building a new train tunnel and wanted to find a solution.

The leaders had a “productive” lunch — the menu included shrimp and beef dishes and, for dessert, chocolate cake — and Mr. Cuomo said both agreed they wanted to avoid having the tunnel project turn into “another government boondoggle.”

The tunnel, which is known as the Gateway project, could cost more than $13 billion.

“I think it’s fair to say the president was receptive to what we were talking about,” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, told reporters after the lunch. “The president said he wanted to take the next steps to find a way forward.”

The meeting was part of a campaign by Mr. Cuomo to convince Mr. Trump, a Republican, to provide federal funding for the passageway. The face-to-face talk was prompted by a video Mr. Cuomo sent Mr. Trump last month showing the deteriorating condition of the current century-old rail tunnel that Amtrak and New Jersey Transit rely on.

The tunnel project involves building two single-track tunnels under the Hudson River between Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan and New Jersey. Those tunnels would supplement the two 108-year-old tubes that constitute the only rail links between New York City and points beyond Newark, N.J.

The White House said in a statement that the leaders discussed “a number of important topics, focusing on infrastructure.”

“The president cares deeply for his home state of New York and always appreciates the opportunity to engage with the governor on issues important to the state and region,” the White House statement said.

As a first step, Mr. Cuomo said he and Mr. Trump wanted a precise estimate for the project’s costs, instead of relying on figures from Amtrak, which owns the existing tunnel. State and federal officials planned to discuss how to begin soliciting bids from private companies to examine the costs, Mr. Cuomo said.

Mr. Cuomo had an answer for those critics disappointed that he did not leave the White House with a concrete promise of federal dollars: “If the president wasn’t interested and wasn’t moved by the video, why have the meeting?”

The meeting was attended by Elaine Chao, the federal transportation secretary; Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative; John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff; and Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Before President Barack Obama left office, his administration had reached a funding agreement with Mr. Cuomo and Chris Christie, who was then the Republican governor of New Jersey. The two states agreed to cover half of the cost with the federal government providing the other half.

Last year, Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Christie discussed the project with Mr. Trump and Ms. Chao at the White House in a conversation both sides described as “productive.” But Ms. Chao later denied the existence of a funding agreement, leaving the project in limbo.

Mr. Cuomo’s meeting with Mr. Trump came as Congress begins to consider a spending bill that could include funding for the tunnel. On Wednesday, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York and a key supporter of the Gateway project, again called on Mr. Trump to help pay for the project, saying failing to do so would lead to “Armageddon for commuters and derail the economy.”

A spokesman for Mr. Schumer said the senator believes Mr. Trump “wants to use Gateway as leverage to trade for the wall.” Mr. Trump campaigned on a promise to build a wall along the souther border of the United States to deter illegal migration.

“Senator Schumer has told the president repeatedly that he is not going to make such a trade,” said Angelo Roefaro, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer.

Mr. Trump has said he wants to work with Democrats on infrastructure after Republicans lost control of the House in the midterm elections.

Amtrak has said the existing tunnels are deteriorating rapidly after having been flooded with salty water in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. About $2 billion of the estimated cost would go toward rehabilitating the old tunnels after the new ones are built.

Last month, Mr. Cuomo ventured into one of the tunnels late at night and sent Mr. Trump the video of its poor condition. The governor, who has committed to overhauling much of New York’s crumbling infrastructure, said he was appealing to Mr. Trump “builder to builder.”

The Port Authority is a sponsor of the Gateway project. Mr. Cotton has essentially been Mr. Cuomo’s infrastructure czar, overseeing the construction of a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, and now at the Port Authority, the rebuilding of La Guardia Airport.

Mr. Cuomo, who has a been a vocal critic of Mr. Trump, said the leaders found common ground over the hazards of building projects.

“The president is skeptical of government construction contracts,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I am skeptical of government construction contracts.”

Mr. Cuomo said he and Mr. Trump were both dubious about the estimated costs of Gateway, which Mr. Cuomo dismissively said were “provided by Amtrak.” If the project costs $13 billion, New York’s share would be $3.25 billion — all the state could afford, the governor said. “I’m at my maximum budget,” Mr. Cuomo said.

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