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Trump not ready to commit to Gateway Tunnel funding

The president says he's "open-minded" about the rail project. Last year he had taken money for it off the table as part of a broader spending bill.

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, in an Oval Office interview on Wednesday, said his administration has “set aside” money for the Gateway Tunnel project, but did not commit to when his administration would release federal dollars for the massive railway project.

The project was initially slated to receive $11 billion in federal funding as part of a cost-sharing agreement with New York and New Jersey made under the Obama administration, but Trump reneged on that deal last year, taking the money off the table as part of a broader federal spending bill.

"We have the money set aside but ... we haven’t decided to use it yet,” Trump said in a sit-down interview with Newsday and other local news outlets from across the country. “I'm speaking to the governor [Andrew M. Cuomo]. I'm speaking with various senators, and we'll see what happens."

Trump said “I’m open-minded” about the project that Cuomo, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and New Jersey officials have been pressing him to fund the new Gateway Tunnel rail connection between New York and New Jersey to the levels agreed to by the Obama administration.

The president dismissed reports claiming he is withholding funding as leverage to garner support from Schumer and congressional Democrats for his $5.7 billion southern border wall request.

"We have to see what they're doing. It's a very expensive project, very expensive, so we have to see what they're doing, it's got to be approved by us,” Trump said.

Cuomo met with Trump last November to urge the president to reverse his position and approve funding.

Asked about Trump’s latest remarks, a Cuomo spokesman pointed to a statement issued by the governor on Tuesday, after the Gateway Program Development Corporation — a nonprofit agency overseeing the project — announced the launch of an online portal for businesses seeking to bid for work on the project.

"A new passenger rail tunnel across the Hudson is vital to the future of our region and our nation,” Cuomo said. “As I told the President at the White House in November, this is the most urgent infrastructure project in the nation and it is a project that is ready to go once he greenlights the federal share of funding.”

Asked about the president’s remarks, Schumer in a statement said: “The aging and Sandy-damaged Hudson River tunnels are crumbling and must be rebuilt ASAP. Every day of delay increases the cost of the project and the risk that the tunnels will fail and cause transit Armageddon that will severely impact LIRR and crush our regional economy. The president and federal DOT need to stop blocking this vital project and instead immediately finalize the Environmental Impact Study and recommit to funding their 50% of the project — because New York and New Jersey have already agreed to fund their share.”

Trump, in his State of the Union address delivered Tuesday night, said Democrats and Republicans could find common ground on passing an infrastructure spending bill.

“Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure,” Trump said. " . . . This is not an option. This is a necessity.”

Schumer in a Senate floor speech said the president failed to provide specifics in making his appeal for bipartisanship on infrastructure issues. “He mentioned infrastructure and prescription drugs, but instead of offering substantive ideas and spending some time on these issues, he delivered a couple of lines about each then moved on,” Schumer said.

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