We can go around Trump to fund the Gateway Tunnel, legislators say after tour

Posted May 2, 2019

U.S. House Transportation Committee members who toured the aging Hudson River rail tunnels Thursday say they have a way around the Trump Administration’s opposition to building the Gateway Project’s new train tunnels and a replacement rail bridge in Kearny.

“If we do a bill, Gateway can be funded and we don’t have to wait for the next administration,” U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, committee chairman, said Thursday night at Penn Station New York.

Funding can be earmarked in the coming budget year’s appropriations bill and in the renewal of the federal transportation funding act that expires next year, he said.

The lawmakers visited the region as legislators begin drafting a successor bill to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which authorizes federal funding for transportation programs that cover roads, bridges and transit. It expires in 2020.

Supporters of building Gateway and rehabilitating the two existing 109-year old rail tunnels worry that those tunnels may have to be closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy flooding in 2012.

DeFazio and other committee members also expressed optimism about a $2 trillion transportation and infrastructure funding bill discussed by Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders this week. The difference between this proposal and the administration’s earlier $1 billion transportation plan is that plan relied heavily on private funding, DeFazio said.

“Most of the projects are being held up by lack of funding. The president gets that,” DeFazio said. “We’re very enthusiastic about this.”

U.S. Rep Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said funds can also be allocated in the appropriations bill for another stalled project, replacing the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in Kearny. That 109-year old bridge delays Northeast Corridor trains when it gets stuck in the open position.

Allocating federal money in an appropriations bill would raise Portal’s Federal Transit Administration rating from medium-low to high, which would qualify if for federal transit administration grants.

“We can designate a project in the bill and that’s the end of that,” DeFazio said.

The same process could be used on the Record of Decision — a document outlining environmental considerations for the Gateway tunnels — which is waiting for an overdue federal approval and is holding up applying for federal grants for that project, Malinowski said.

“If they can’t produce a ROD on the tunnels, maybe we’ll declare it done,” DeFazio said, adding that step has been taken in the past.

The committee is taking a second, more in-depth tour of the tunnels Thursday night. On Friday morning, the committee will hold a formal hearing in New York where Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is scheduled to testify about the Gateway Project.

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