Sen. Charles Schumer urged President-elect Donald Trump today to maintain the Obama administration’s commitment to a $24 billion plan to rebuild and expand the train tunnels linking New York and New Jersey—or risk cratering the economy if and when the existing passageway becomes unusable.
The incoming Democratic Senate minority leader joined Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia at a breakfast of the Association for a Better New York this morning to discuss the status of the Gateway project. Unlike a previous project, Access to the Region’s core, Gateway appears to have survived several rounds of political infighting, as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and federal government-owned Amtrak have each agreed to kick in $35 million to begin planning and construction.
Booker described how the Department of Transportation has fast-tracked the necessary environmental studies, and Schumer outlined how surplus revenues from the Acela corridor would underwrite the bonding—so long as Trump and incoming Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao support the plan.
“As we are all sitting here today, we’re in good shape. The question—the $64,000 question—how will the new administration react to all of this? And this will be the first test of the Trump administration, in its commitment to New York City, and its commitment to infrastructure,” said Schumer. “If we don’t build this, and these tunnels fail, the whole economy will collapse. There will be a deep recession in the New York metropolitan area, and a recession probably in the whole country.”
The senator, poised to become the most powerful Democrat in Republican-occupied Washington, highlighted that the existing tunnels are roughly a century old and suffered severe erosion during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. And he noted millions of people, representing millions of dollars and millions of jobs, use the current structures each year.
“So much of our national economy depends on the Northeast, and these tunnels could collapse—fail, I’m not supposed to use the word collapse, because there’s no danger for your constituents, Bob, in taking them now,” Schumer said, addressing Menendez. “But if they fail, the economy would just plummet.”
“You can say this unequivocally: this is the most important public infrastructure project in America, bar none,” he continued.
Schumer said he had seen some “positive indications” from Trump, a longtime donor to his political campaigns. He recalled a recent phone conversation in which the president-elect reaffirmed his commitment to a $1 trillion infrastructure program.
But Trump’s plan calls not for large government expenditures, but for tax breaks to investors who sink money into public goods, and for allowing those investors to charge riders tolls to recoup their stakes.
This, Schumer warned, would prove insufficient to a project of Gateway’s scale.
“We need a commitment, a broad-scale commitment from President-elect Trump for infrastructure—there’s some initial good signs that’s one of the areas where he might actually expand federal government growth—and second, we need to make sure that our federal DOT keeps up the same commitment to Gateway that the previous DOT secretary had. And that’s going to be our job, to try and persuade him,” he said. “And we need this project to have the number one focus of the Secretary of Transportation.”
Trump’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment. Chao, who served as Secretary of Labor under former President George W. Bush, is married to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.