Trump tempts transportation cataclysm. Fund Gateway. | Editorial

Someone needs to inform President Trump that the Hudson River rail tunnels predate his mother by two years. When they opened, transportation alternatives included the Stanley Steamer and the Titanic, and they were dug by Pennsylvania Railroad for inter-city rail - not as a commuter line, and certainly not for a megalopolis.

No doubt, the rail tubes have led productive lives. We've run 20 times the number of trains that they were designed for, and we're up to 450 per day. We got our money's worth.

But now they're dying. Since Sandy, corrosion has been killing these tunnels from the inside out, concrete bench walls are caving in, pipes and cables are exposed, and beneath the skin, wires and steel are rusting.

Their inevitable failure is no longer measured in decades. Their failure will take place in years.

So someone should inform Trump that this is no time to play chicken with infrastructure built during the Taft Administration, or with the lives of 200,000 commuters who use the tunnels each day, or with the national economy.

We need new tunnels. The old ones need a 12-month makeover - which realistically cannot happen until new ones are built. Trump knows we need the Gateway Project funded and we need to get to work, or the consequences will be catastrophic.

But the president did what he often does, after the infrastructure funding debate began last week: He lobbed a stink bomb into the room and then backed away.

The governors of New York and New Jersey had already secured a deal with the Obama Administration that the federal government would assume half the cost of the $30 billion project, which is really eight projects - the tunnels, expanding both Penn Stations, etc. It cannot be done piecemeal. Work on a new Portal Bridge has already begun.

But Trump's new Federal Transit Administration chief said that the deal is dead, and now the FTA says Gateway isn't eligible for fundingunder its New Starts program.

Many believe Trump is just keeping his foot on the neck of New York Senator Chuck Schumer for political leverage - a dumb and reckless way to score political points.  The tunnels are at the center of the most important rail link in the U.S. - the Northeast Corridor, which generates 20 percent of our domestic product, but is now held together with sticky tape and glue.

Put it this way: In mid-morning on Jan. 11, the Portal Bridge - the Hackensack River swing-truss span - got stuck in the open position, a common event for the 108-year-old fulcrum. Result: Amtrak and N.J. Transit had to cancel 30 trains between Norfolk and Boston, 69 more were delayed, and 30,000 passengers were affected.

Happy days at the NEC's most wretched choke point. And that will feel like a blip in comparison to a Hudson tunnel being taken down for repairs. The number of trains would drop from 24 per hour to 6.

And every year we delay the project, the price goes up $1 billion and the danger increases exponentially. As Tom Wright of the Regional Plan Association put it, "You break it, you own it. This is now Donald Trump's tunnel. And when it collapses, he clearly owns that one, too."

Disaster is looming, and gamesmanship is no longer an option.

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