House Passes Spending Bill With $540 Million Available for Gateway Project

NJ Transit train.

NJ Transit train. File photo

After months of wrangling between the Trump administration and New Jersey and New York lawmakers, the House passed a massive spending bill Thursday that includes $540 million that could be used for the Gateway Tunnel project.

The major transit project was one of the final sticking points in spending negotiations, as President Trump threatened to veto the bill if it included money for Gateway. Lawmakers from New Jersey and New York originally sought $900 million specifically dedicated for the project.

Under the bill passed Thursday, the $540 million wouldn’t be earmarked for Gateway but would go to Amtrak, a partner in the project that is expected to spend the money on Gateway, according to a congressional aide. In addition, the bill includes $2.9 billion in transportation grant funding that Gateway could compete for against other transportation projects.

But the Trump administration said it would still have final say over where the money goes, noting the Department of Transportation (DOT) reviews all federal grants to Amtrak. The $1.3 trillion spending bill also makes no reference to Gateway and therefore “removes preferential treatment” for the project, a statement from the DOT said.

The $30 billion 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 nearly $13 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River and replacing the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River for $1.6 billion.

There has been no firm commitment for federal funding. New Jersey and New York leaders from both parties have been working to secure the money. But the Trump administration has opposed earmarking federal dollars for Gateway and, in January, rejected an Obama-era agreement for the feds to foot half of the bill, with New Jersey and New York splitting the rest.

New Jersey lawmakers claimed victory after the spending bill cleared the House.

“Our facts are resonating. Many powerful voices did not want to see this project advance. But those who wanted Gateway funding completely eliminated lost the argument,” Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) said in a statement.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) said that while the project still faces headwinds, “this federal support is a constructive first step toward solving the most pressing infrastructure problem facing our nation.”

The Trump administration had a different take.

“Because of the president’s leadership, Congress is now considering a spending bill that provides billions in needed funding for infrastructure projects across the country and also removes preferential treatment for the New York and New Jersey Gateway projects, including complete removal of all language that earmarked or advantaged these local transit projects in earlier versions considered by Congress,” a statement from the DOT said.

A spokesman for Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11), the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee who made Gateway funding a top priority in spending negotiations, did not return a request for comment.

The spending bill must pass the Senate and be signed by Trump by midnight on Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

House Passes Spending Bill With $540 Million Available for Gateway Project