New Biden administration action could boost Gateway tunnel that’s critical to N.J.

Posted Feb 16, 2021

The Federal Transit Administration on Monday reversed a policy by former President Donald Trump’s administration and made it easier for New Jersey and New York to fund their share of the Gateway Tunnel project.

In one of the clearest signs that President Joe Biden would reverse his predecessor’s antipathy to the new train tunnel under the Hudson River, the FTA said it would allow states to use U.S. government loans to cover their share of a project, making it eligible for federal funding.

“The Trump Administration pulled this ridiculous policy out of thin air in order to delay and derail the Gateway Project,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said.

New Jersey and New York had planned on using loans under existing transportation programs, which they would have to pay back, as their 50% share of Gateway. The new tunnel would allow the existing Hudson River tubes to be closed to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

But then-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had insisted at a May 2018 House Transportation Committee hearing that New Jersey and New York were not living up to their funding commitment, saying that their proposal to use the federal loans were not acceptable.

The following February, Congress passed spending legislation reversing that policy.

“Despite the clear signals from Congress, Trump’s Department of Transportation continued to insist that their interpretation held sway,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and sponsor of the provision.

He said he talked to members of Biden’s transition team and recommended they change the policy.

“This was one of the artificial obstacles that the Trump administration placed in the way of Gateway,” sald Malinowski, D-7th Dist. “We discussed a series of administrative steps that they could take to get the tunnel back on track and this was one of them.”

Trump at one point threaten to shut down the government rather than approve any federal funding for Gateway, and his administration lowered Gateway’s rating, making the tunnel ineligible for U.S. aid.

On the other hand, Biden, who as a U.S. senator from Delaware was a frequent Amtrak user, supported Gateway during the campaign. And new Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the Senate Commerce Committee in January that he wanted “to move forward” on the project.

Malinowski said he made two more suggestions to the Biden’s transition team: Raise the rating on Gateway to make it eligible for federal funding, and issue an environmental impact statement for the project that is almost three years overdue. Neither has happened yet.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-02-17 03:14:15 -0800