Trump’s Infrastructure Games Threaten NY

Photo: Gateway Program Development Corporation
Photo: Gateway Program Development Corporation

Spite is a lot cheaper than $13 billion.

That’s the current pricetag for the vital Gateway Project, which would replace two aging tunnels under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey that President Trump simply won’t commit to — even after a cordial meeting with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday.

A final funding agreement for the twin tunnels, which carry 200,000 riders per day and are the New York area’s economic aorta, could emerge early next year, according to Bond Buyer. But it all depends on Trump. And he seems more interested in using New York’s desperation to advance his policy goals than on fixing the problem.

Often called the most important infrastructure project in the country, the $13-billion Gateway Project would replace the aging rail tunnel under the Hudson River from Manhattan to New Jersey that carries Amtrak and NJ Transit trains. If the tunnel fails — and it has failed repeatedly — thousands of cars are added to already congested roadways and the entire Northeast Corridor economy would suffer, experts say.

But despite campaigning on an infrastructure platform, Trump has gone out of his way to stymie this project. In March, he threatened to veto the budget bill if it included any money for the project.

Politico’s Michael Grunwald says that Trump may be holding up the project as a way to exert power over the Empire State’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader.

Withholding funding from the project help Trump exert pressure to enact his policy goals, like a border wall, says Grunwald. In addition, Trump’s supporters like to see him sparring with the liberal Schumer and are resentful of federal funding for projects in New York City overall.

“It’s hard to know why Trump does what he does,” Grunwald wrote, “but he often seems to care more about winning than ideology, and he seems to think [building] Gateway would be a win for his enemies.”

A spokesman for Schumer, Angelo Roefaro, told the Times that Trump “wants to use Gateway as leverage to trade for the wall” but that Schumer “has told the president repeatedly that he is not going to make such a trade.”

Trump isn’t the first Republican to practice this kind of brinkmanship with the New York metro economy. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie famously killed the gateway’s predecessor — the ARC tunnel — in 2010 at the height of the Tea Party furor. The tunnel was already under construction, so Christie’s move resulted in $600 million of waste, but at the time, many governors, such as John Kasich and Scott Walker were returning President Obama’s rail stimulus funds to demonstrate their anti-Obama bona fides.

Since then the situation has only become more desperate. The 108-year-old tunnels suffered water damage during Hurricane Sandy. Downed power lines and other issues cause regular delays. The tunnel had to be shut down for four days in 2015.

Even if the funding agreement is approved in early 2019 as optimistically expected, a lot of damage has already been done, according to a report by the nonprofit group Common Good [PDF]. And even without Trump’s delay tactics, it could take until 2028 to finish the project. And there’s a good chance the tunnels won’t be able to service both Amtrak and NJ Transit for that long.

The delays have big environmental costs as well. Gateway’s predecessor, the ARC tunnel, would have increased train ridership by 80,000 trips a day and reduced car trips over the Hudson River by 5 percent. Philip Howard, the Common Good report’s author, said the one-year delay Trump has already imposed $1.6 billion in additional costs and added 366,000 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, the equivalent of “9,155 midsized cars idling continuously for a year.”

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