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.”

  • Danny

    Give him the wall. Just do it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The other problem is, NY and NJ have tied the absolutely essential tunnel replacement to a broader project at inflated costs. Including tearing down a chuck of Manhattan to expand Penn Station.

    Rather than 50 percent of the broader project, the federal government should just fund 100 percent of just the tunnel with no EIS, no years or review, no excess construction costs, and build it itself. Make it a 4-track tunnel, so the states could decide to extend the Flushing Line to Secaucus later, and hook it into the existing Penn Station.

    New York and New Jersey could hash out what to do with the rest of the project later. As with regard to East Side Access, I have no confidence that with any local agency in the lead we won’t end up spending $13 billion, not getting the tunnel, and needing $billions more as thousands more people cash in and retire early to Florida.

  • Max Wyss

    Theoretically, could the the states New York and New Jersey finance a reasonably priced project on their own, without federal money? Or as a variant, pre-finance it, and request refunds when there is a more reasonable regime in DC?

  • Mark Dowling

    Schumer should step down as Minority Leader. He’s not good at it, and it takes an excuse away from Trump to screw NY infrastructure. Win win!

  • Larry Littlefield

    The national Republican proposal is for New York to pay for its own infrastructure — and a share of the infrastructure in Republican areas where they don’t want to pay taxes.

    The New York proposal is for New York City to pay for its own infrastructure — and a share of the infrastructure in the rest of the state, where people count as such are deserve a better deal.

    Just about the only infrastructure investment in New Jersey over the years has been by the Port Authority, using revenues part collected in New York City.

    In answer to your question, my preference would be to eliminate ALL federal transportation infrastructure investment. You pay for yours, we’ll pay for ours, and perhaps people would have to be more responsible.

    As it is, we have to fight for a small share of our money.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Didn’t work for the Romans in Britain, or the Chinese vs. the Mongolians.

    Drones have been invented. They’ll just fly to drugs to couriers on the other side.

  • Daniel

    don’t forget the judges he let through without a fight so the Dems could go home and campaign on fighting judges; and the Wall today

  • cjstephens

    Schumer (and Cuomo) painted themselves into this corner. The White House had this project on its list of high priorities after the 2016 election, but rather than work with Trump to get this funded, they chose instead to join the #resist mob and attack the president every chance they got. They’re both seasoned politicians and should have been able to see how this would backfire. They now have zero leverage. Trump knows that funding this project will win him zero votes, so Schumer, Cuomo et al. will have to figure out what they’re willing to give up in exchange.

    That said, yes, the most rational solution would be to cut the feds out of the equation entirely and find a way to get NY and NJ to pay for the tunnel themselves. But that would require Cuomo and Murphy to act like mature adults willing to look out for the long-term interests of their non-car-driving constituents, and I won’t hold my breath for that to happen.

  • 1 Less Car

    Sorry, NY has the money. They just don’t want to pay it.

  • Jason

    And despite the excuse people keep making for Schumer, it’s not like he can’t do anything about these judicial appointments. He can’t stop every single one of them, but he can use the same tactics McConnell used against Reid to severely slow down the rate of judicial confirmations.

    http://prospect.org/article/schumer-surrenders

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