President Trump is pushing congressional Republicans to oppose funding for a vital new train tunnel between New York and New Jersey, according to reports.
Sources tell the New York Times and the Washington Post that Trump urged House Speaker Paul Ryan this week to thwart the flow of federal dollars to the $30 billion Gateway Program, a project to replace the 107-year-old Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson River that had been badly damaged during superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The president’s stand against the much-delayed infrastructure plan — the country’s top transportation priority under the Obama administration — poses a significant roadblock to its execution in the near future.
State and local leaders have long sought federal funding to help cover the program’s costs, stressing its significance for the economic prosperity of not only New York and New Jersey, but the entire Northeast region.
“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,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement in December. Cuomo and then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie committed to paying for half of the two-tube tunnel, which is only one part of the larger Gateway initiative. The tunnel is expected to cost about $12.9 billion.
“New York State is stepping up to fund its share of the financial commitment as we rebuild our infrastructure all across the state,” he added. “Now the federal government must fulfill its commitment to fund the other half and make this urgent, long-overdue project a reality.”
Rail service between New Jersey and New York would be reduced by 75 percent if the tunnel were to fail before an overhaul, Amtrak estimates.
With the Trump administration back-peddling on an Obama-era informal agreement to foot half the bill for the first phase of the Gateway project, the likelihood of that failure has increased.
The motivation for Trump’s opposition to the project isn’t entirely clear, but some observers say it’s a challenge to his key political rival, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has held up several of the president’s nominees for key government posts.
At a September news conference, Schumer called the tunnel “essential,” if expensive. “But the cost we’d pay for failure would be far, far greater,” he told reporters, saying he’d personally ask Trump to commit to funding.
“This project is vital to fifty million people in the northeast corridor and to our American economy, and politics shouldn’t get in the way,” the U.S. Senator added in a statement Saturday.
Trump’s message to Ryan isn’t the first time his White House has signaled opposition to the infrastructure project. In December, Federal Transit Administration Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a letter to New York and New Jersey officials that the Obama agreement to fund the tunnel was “nonexistent” and she had “serious concerns” about the project’s first phase.