The Tunnel From Nowhere

Buried deep in the Web archives of Senator Charles Schumer’s press shop (trust us, the Schumer press-release archives are deep), there is a release boasting that the Senate Finance Committee had approved $2 billion in funding for a rail link to connect Lower Manhattan with J.F.K. Airport.

With Democrats in control of Congress, approval of the funding was set to sail through the Capitol, the 2007 release suggested in a confident sub-headline: “Long Bogged Down Funding Now Moving Swiftly Through Congress.”

Well, not quite.

The funding, a reapportionment of tax credits, has proved to be a particularly elusive, giant chunk of the $20 billion in aid pledged by the Bush administration to rebuild Lower Manhattan after 9/11. It has been blocked repeatedly in Congress—legislators such as Republican Senators Judd Gregg and Jim DeMint pilloried the funding as example of reckless spending—and has therefore defied Mr. Schumer’s attempts to push it through the Senate.

And as the memory of that $20 billion promise fades, it seems actually securing the money becomes more and more difficult.

The money was originally set aside to build a new set of tunnels and other connections that would allow for a one-seat train ride from downtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport via Jamaica. But the scheme, which rode the wings of love in the heady city planning heyday that immediately followed the destruction of the World Trade Center, has gone into something of a hibernation. The proposal has never been publicly killed; powerful downtown landlords have long thought it was the way for Lower Manhattan to compete with midtown. But the plan, estimated by the administration of former Governor George Pataki to cost a hefty $6 billion, was never prioritized in the subsequent Spitzer and Paterson administrations as it was on his watch.

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The Tunnel From Nowhere