WYNC News- The proposed Gateway Program, which would add a second rail tunnel under the Hudson River and upgrade rail infrastructure in New York and New Jersey, has been relying on the federal government for 50 percent of the estimated $24 billion cost. But that was under President Barack Obama. President Donald Trump has vowed to slash grants that would have funded projects like this.
But John Porcari, the interim head of the Gateway Development Corp., said Tuesday that if the Trump Administration doesn't release the promised money, the agency will seek funding from a public-private partnership.
The Gateway Development Corp. is a non-profit corporation made up of current and former Federal, Amtrak, NJ Transit and Port Authority officials. Pocari said that under the partnership, the project might even be completed earlier.
The current tunnel is more than a century old and in critical need of repair. The new tunnel would double capacity under the river. Planning for the $24 billion project is underway, and construction was scheduled to begin later this year.
At a board meeting Tuesday, Rich Bagger, a former chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie and a trustee on the project, said he was confident Trump understood its merits.
"The president is committed to a major infrastructure program for the United States," he said. "And this is a leading infrastructure — if not the leading infrastructure project — in the country."
Federal funding for the tunnel, if it arrived, would come from the New Starts program, which funds $2.3 billion in transportation projects each year.
New York and New Jersey's senators, in a joint opinion piece in The New York Times, said Trump's proposal to eliminate New Starts and therefore cut money for a new Hudson River train tunnel, would mean a "hair-pulling transit apocalypse."
"The closing of either tunnel would be devastating, because it would essentially shut down the Northeast Corridor, the transit route from Boston to Washington that produces over $3 trillion in economic output — a full 20 percent of the national gross domestic product," the senators wrote.
Two recent derailments gave train and transit riders a taste of what could happen in the future if the tunnel has to be closed for repairs, the senators wrote.
Gillibrand told WNYC that she thinks she can make a case that the Hudson River train tunnel should be funded.
“I think this is something that colleagues can come together on, regardless of whether it’s their specific project or their state," Gillibrand said, "because they know it’s important for the country’s economy, it’s important for growth, it’s important for businesses.”
If the tunnel project is cut from the federal budget, Gillibrand thinks voters will be just as motivated to protest — and pressure Congress — as they were for health care and Trump’s immigration ban.
Trump has proposed a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan to repair roads, bridges, hospitals and other public facilities, but hasn't released details yet. Congress isn't likely to take up that idea before its August recess.