The top elected officials from New Jersey and New York traveled to the White House on Thursday and made clear to President Trump the need for federal funding for the Gateway project, but there was little movement securing the money for the nearly $30 billion infrastructure program.
Sen. Cory Booker, one of the Democrats at the meeting, said afterward that Trump has not lived up to his core campaign promise to invest in infrastructure. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) said he appreciated Trump’s interest in the Gateway project — a massive expansion of rail capacity between New Jersey and New York — but he said after the meeting that “more work needs to be done.”
“President Trump has made plenty of promises on infrastructure which so far have fallen flat,” Booker said in a statement. “It’s time for him to step up and commit to real investment in Gateway in order to strengthen our region’s surface transportation networks, bolster our economy, and boost job creation.”
“This administration has indicated that infrastructure investment will be a priority and I am hopeful that today’s meeting and information will persuade President Trump to consider Gateway to be a national priority,” Lance said. “There is more work to be done but I appreciate the president’s invitation and interest in the project.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who was at the meeting, called it “inconclusive” but said the parties did confirm an agreement reached under President Barack Obama that New Jersey and New York would cover half the cost and the federal government would cover the other half.
“While the White House meeting was productive, it was inconclusive,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The leaders from New York and New Jersey reiterated that construction of new passenger rail tunnels under the Hudson is not only urgent, but critical for the entire northeast region and long overdue.
“We confirmed our original agreement with the previous administration whereby the Port Authority would finance 50 percent with user fees and the federal government would contribute 50 percent. I also affirmed that it was imperative the project would have to be done using design build like the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, which the president agreed was a success.”
The White House was slightly more upbeat after the meeting, which included Trump, chief of staff John Kelly and other top advisers, Gov. Chris Christie, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and several members of the New Jersey and New York congressional delegations.
The meeting was “productive” but federal and state officials must find “creative” ways to fund the Gateway program, a White House spokesperson said afterward.
“The expense of the program, which approaches $30 billion, will require a strong partnership to deliver these nine projects in a cost-effective manner by streamlining the permitting process, using innovative procurement techniques, and being creative in the funding and financing of the program,” the White House spokesperson said. “The president and his administration remain committed to creating a robust infrastructure package that will modernize and transform our nation’s infrastructure.”
The Gateway program is an ambitious effort that could take more than a decade to complete, but it is seen as the only workable solution currently available to renovate the century-old rail infrastructure linking New Jersey and New York and ease the congestion thousands of businesses and commuters face daily on Hudson River crossings.
As currently envisioned, it includes building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, replacing the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, adding tracks at Newark Penn Station and relocating parts of New York Penn Station to a new building. There is no firm commitment for the federal funding required, although New Jersey and New York leaders from both parties have been working to secure the money.
The meeting comes a day after lawmakers from both states in the House successfully blocked an effort to eliminate $900 million to start the infrastructure project. The funds were added by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who did not attend the Thursday meeting.
The $900 million is still a small fraction of project’s cost and there’s no guarantee the money will be included in a budget signed by the president. The U.S. Department of Transportation appropriations bill for fiscal 2018 would include $500 million in “rail state of good repair grants” and $400 million for building a new tunnel to connect New Jersey to New York City and replacing the Portal North Bridge over the Hackensack River under Frelinghuysen’s plan.
Securing the funding could be a heavy lift in the Republican-controlled Congress, where conservative members from rural, Southern and other parts of the country are reticent to send so much money to the Northeast.
A spokesman for Christie did not respond to a request for comment.
“The Gateway program is the most important infrastructure project in the nation and critical to our region’s economy,” Booker said. “It is also key to providing much-needed relief to New Jersey commuters. This is why I have worked closely with our state and federal partners to jumpstart this vital project, and will continue to work with all partners focused on moving Gateway forward.”