Gateway Tunnel Program funding deal between Cuomo, Christie puts pressure on Trump

Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie on Thursday committed to pay for about half of a vital new train tunnel under the Hudson River, putting pressure on the Trump administration to fund the rest.

The governors announced that they’re budgeting a combined $5.55 billion through various agencies in order to cover half the cost of the Gateway Tunnel Program, a project to replace the 107-year-old Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson River that was badly damaged during superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The commitment represents a fulfillment of an Obama-era agreement establishing that the two states would fund half of the project, with the federal government picking up the rest of the tab.

“The Gateway Tunnel is critical to the long-term vitality of the entire Northeast region and one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New York State is stepping up to fund its share of the financial commitment as we rebuild our infrastructure all across the state. Now the federal government must fulfill its commitment to fund the other half and make this urgent, long-overdue project a reality.”

If one tube in the existing two-tube Hudson River tunnel fails before the project is completed, train service between New Jersey and New York would be reduced by 75 percent, according to Amtrak.

The tunnel project, estimated to cost about $12.9 billion, is part of a larger, $24 billion Gateway Program that also includes expanding Penn Station and building new bridges to better connect Newark, New Jersey, and New York City.

Under the current funding structure, New York State will put up $1.75 billion in its forthcoming executive budget and NJ Transit will pay $1.9 billion. The Port Authority, a bi-state agency, will also budget $1.9 billion in its capital program. NJ Transit riders will see the most personal impact. The transit agency will pay for its portion by implementing a per-passenger trip charge for all its rail riders. The fees will amount a $.90 charge each way beginning in 2020 and will increase to $1.70 in 2028 and $2.20 in 2038.

The Trump administration has not expressed whether it would honor or back away from the previous administration’s agreement, though transit experts are worried that the White House does not see eye-to-eye on the project’s importance.

In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation left the group overseeing the Gateway Program, the Gateway Development Corporation. And, in September, Cuomo called a meeting between President Donald Trump and New York and New Jersey officials to discuss the program “productive” but “inconclusive.”

The U.S. DOT did not comment on Thursday’s announcement, though a senior administration official close to the issue said the states’ budgeting is off. The official said the proposed cost for the project is actually $14.9 billion — when including the rehabilitation of the existing tunnel — and a portion of the money being committed by New York and New Jersey relies on federal dollars.

“[The] submission on file proposes the federal government pay 85 percent of the project costs, for a tunnel where nine out of 10 passengers are local transit riders,” the official said. “This is entirely unserious.”

Amtrak did not immediately respond to a request for comment.