BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

Transportation & Infrastructure Committees Working Lunch: Tuesday July 11th

July 5th, 2017

Transportation & Infrastructure Committees

Working Lunch

Tuesday July 11th

1:30pm – 3:30pm

401 East 34th Street, Room S23-H

This working lunch will join the resources of the Business & Labor Coalition of New York’s infrastructure committee with the Chamber’s transportation committee. It will also offer views of the demolition of the 78 year old Kosciuszko Bridge.

“NYC’s official web domain” or call 212-CHAMBER

Committee Members: $20 Contribution
Guests: $50 Sponsors: $100 (includes press)

With federal funding dicey, officials explore private investment in cross-Hudson tunnel

April 12th, 2017

While the Obama administration was a staunch supporter of building a new cross-Hudson tunnel, President Donald Trump’s proposed executive budget cuts funding programs on which tunnel builders expected to rely. | AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

By Dana Rubinstein

With President Donald Trump proposing dramatic cuts to transportation funding, the officials charged with building a multi-billion-dollar, nationally important rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River have begun to explore private funding mechanisms.

A public-private partnership is “certainly one of the things that we want to explore,” said Richard Bagger, chairman of the Gateway Development Corporation, the entity tasked with building the tunnel.

A “public-private partnership” is an ill-defined term that, broadly speaking, refers to governments enlisting private sector help on big initiatives, in exchange for the private sector getting a cut of the pie.

That the Gateway Development Corporation is exploring that sort of arrangement is a testament to the new reality in Washington.

While the Obama administration was a staunch supporter of building a new cross-Hudson tunnel, Trump’s proposed executive budget cuts funding programs on which tunnel builders expected to rely.

Publicly, the president has equivocated about his intentions, vis-a-vis the tunnel project.

“Well, I may support them,” Trump said recently, referring to the tunnel and to the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway. “I’m going to look at them.”

The so-called Gateway Program would, among other things, build a new tunnel beneath the Hudson to relieve pressure on the existing, more-than-century-old one that’s both at capacity and falling apart. It’s the successor project to Access to the Region’s Core, another funded cross-Hudson tunnel project that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally killed, citing cost concerns.

Amtrak controls the existing tunnel, but NJ Transit relies on it. Two recent derailments at Penn Station, to which the tunnel connects, underscored the fragility of the system. With eight of 21 Penn Station tracks out of service, and no tunnel redundancy, hundreds of thousands of riders saw their commutes thrown into disarray for nearly a week.

Given the current condition of the tunnel, experts say commuters should expect more of the same for years to come.

In Washington, Trump administration officials have talked about public-private partnerships as an element of the president’s yet-to-be-released $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

“Everybody wants a better transportation system, but very few people want to pay for it,” Trump transportation secretary Elaine Chao said in February. “But as we go forward, we do look forward to, for example, public-private partnerships. That is not the answer for everything, because there is a cost to that.”

How viable a public-private partnership might prove for the cross-Hudson tunnel remains to be seen.

“They would need a certain repayment stream,” said Nicole Gelinas, a transportation expert at the Manhattan Institute. That, she says, means “ working out a schedule of guaranteed fees from Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the LIRR for a good 30 to 50 years, at rates much higher than any of these users are accustomed to paying.”

Funding mechanisms aside, officials at Tuesday’s Gateway Development Corporation board meeting expressed confidence the Trump administration would in some way fund the mega project, if only because it’s so important.

“These are programs of national significance that are fundamental to the economy of the region as well as of the country and enjoy strong bipartisan congressional support, strong support from both of our states and the work needs to get done,” said Bagger, who served on Trump’s transition team.


This city needs Fair Fares now more than ever

April 12th, 2017

By City & State

Imagine you are a single adult raising two kids in New York City while living below the federal poverty line – under $20,000 in annual income for a family of three. Your job barely enables you to afford rent in a gentrifying neighborhood like, say, Brooklyn’s Crown Heights or Mott Haven in the Bronx.

Now imagine losing your job, which is unfortunately a fairly common occurrence in the unstable low-wage job market. Every personal expense suddenly falls on the chopping block – routine costs like groceries or paying your phone bill become a burden. You’re forced to postpone buying any new school clothes for your two children, let alone notebooks and pencils.

Your personal budget audit now turns to traveling anywhere in New York City. A single ride on the subway, your primary mode of transportation, costs $2.75. That new job you’re interviewing for? It will cost you $5.50 round trip just to get to the interview, before tacking on the extra fares for stops in between – including picking up your children from school.

In a city that depends on public transportation, residents should not have to choose between going to work and eating dinner. They should not be stranded until the person holding the household’s one MetroCard returns home, or forced to walk such long distances that they are sore to the point of tears the next day.

And yet these are the stories organizations like the Riders Alliance and Community Service Society of New York are hearing on a regular basis. Those are our neighbors begging for swipes or risking a $100 fine for jumping a turnstile because $2.75 is too much to pay.

There is nary a more populist issue in New York City than public transportation. Subways and buses are truly the connective tissue that binds our city. They are among the only conduits for breaking down the barriers of both class and ethnic segregation that are, unfortunately, still prevalent.

Over the next five weeks, City & State’s editorial board will be partnering with the Community Service Society of New York and Riders Alliance to support their Fair Fares campaign – a proposal we cited in our “Best Ideas of 2016” editorial in December. The goal of Fair Fares is to convince the mayor and City Council to fund subsidized MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, at a cost of roughly $212 million – a mere 0.25 percent of the city’s $84.7 billion preliminary budget. For our part in this campaign, City & State will be publishing op-eds from experts in various fields to make the case for why this initiative deserves full funding. These op-eds will focus on the economic benefits of funding Fair Fares, but also consider peripheral angles, such as its positive impact on the criminal justice system and undocumented immigrant communities.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio talks about bridging the equality gap in New York City, public transportation is too often a footnote in that rhetoric. He has doubled down on his plans for a citywide ferry system, which won’t do much for the low-income commuters from the Bronx that live miles from the East River. And his plans for a light rail connector from Astoria to Sunset Park will do wonders for waterfront property values, but won’t help the single mother of three get from central Brooklyn to her job in northern Manhattan.

Besides the narrow populations each proposal would serve, another thing the ferry system and light rail connector have in common is that both would operate entirely outside of the rest of New York City’s transportation system. Neither proposal envisions making use of the same MetroCard that all New Yorkers swipe for buses and subways, but rather creates an even more complicated network of transportation that, for low-income families that choose to take the ferry or BQX, could necessitate an entirely separate personal budget.

There is nary a more populist issue in New York City than public transportation. Subways and buses are truly the connective tissue that binds our city. They are among the only conduits for breaking down the barriers of both class and ethnic segregation that are, unfortunately, still prevalent. Metropolitan Transportation Authority fare hikes are increasingly putting this vital public service out of reach for our lowest-income neighbors. If we are to live up to our reputation as a progressive city, we must ensure that we are not inadvertently crippling the mobility of low-income New Yorkers.


Think New York Transit Is Bad? Just Wait

April 11th, 2017


In the past few weeks, commuters in New York and New Jersey have been dealing with the chaos caused by the derailments of an Amtrak train and a New Jersey Transit train in New York’s Penn Station. While the accidents themselves were minor, by closing down tracks, they provided a stark preview for what life could soon be like if we don’t follow through with critical investments to improve our infrastructure.

Alarmingly, if we don’t act soon to repair the two tunnels under the Hudson River, that same reduction in service our region experienced last week will become a permanent reality.

The current tunnels under the Hudson River were built in 1908 and are rapidly deteriorating. This problem was exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy, which filled the tunnels with corrosive salt water, and engineers now estimate that without major overhauls the tunnels are likely to fail within the next 10 years. The closing of either tunnel would be devastating because it would essentially shut down the Northeast Corridor, the transit route from Boston to Washington that produces over $3 trillion in economic output — a full 20 percent of the national gross domestic product.

Over the last year and a half Amtrak, along with New York and New Jersey, has been advancing a project called Gateway that would address this impending crisis. Gateway would update and increase the number of tracks at Penn Station and build a new tunnel under the Hudson River. That new tunnel would allow the existing tunnels to be closed and repaired, and after the completion of both projects, train service into New York would be doubled.

Last year the federal government, along with New York and New Jersey, agreed to split the cost of Gateway evenly, and engineering and permitting are now underway; construction on the next phase was set to begin later this year. But in his budget proposal, President Trump proposed slashing the two funding sources — federal transit dollars and Amtrak — that are the key to building Gateway and the new tunnel.

Time is running out to replace the existing crumbling tunnels, and our region cannot afford setbacks to this project like the one President Trump’s budget would impose. Over the past few weeks Penn Station commuters have gotten a taste of what it will be like if just one of those tunnels fails before the new tunnel is constructed.

The Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak were all forced to cancel trains. As a result of the first derailment alone, over 300,000 New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road passengers were delayed, and the second caused eight of the 21 tracks under Penn Station to be shut down for days. Our regional economy paid a price: The Partnership for New York City estimates that every hour train commuters from New Jersey and Long Island are delayed costs Manhattan employers alone over $14.5 million.

If an entire tunnel crumbled and needed to be closed for repair, a reality that engineers agree is closing in on our region, the suffering and delays would last well over a year.

By building the new tunnel, we will have the flexibility to make the years’ worth of repairs that are needed to the existing tunnels without reducing service. Additionally, once the new tunnel is done and the existing tunnels are repaired, the increased capacity will mean that even when there is a shutdown, problem or derailment, service can continue with only minor delays because trains will be able to pass the derailed or broken locomotive.

Gateway is important in itself, but it is also an illustration of the country’s immense need for infrastructure investments. Senate Democrats understand the challenge and have put forward a real plan to make game-changing investments across the country, including Gateway.

However, despite the president’s campaign rhetoric and his continued promise to deliver major infrastructure investments, to date the administration has gone the opposite direction and proposed major cuts in infrastructure spending.

We’ll fight to restore these funds for Gateway and other projects, increase overall investments in infrastructure and continue to work with our state and local partners to make progress on this important project. But the past two weeks should serve as a cautionary tale for what will happen if proposals like those put forth in the president’s budget ever become reality. Like Scrooge meeting the Ghost of Christmas Future, transit riders were given a glimpse of the hair-pulling transit apocalypse to come if we do not make major investments in our infrastructure now.


LaGuardia Airport to use foreign steel in $4B renovation angering U.S. industry

March 21st, 2017

By Ginger Adams Otis

Bridge that connects to LaGuardia Airport under construction. Chinese steel will build some of roadway bridges at the airport. (DelMundo, Anthony)

LaGuardia’s $4 billion facelift won’t be an all-American job, the Daily News has learned.

Chinese steel will be used in the high-profile project meant to make the city’s second-best airport great again — infuriating the U.S. steel industry that says it can handle the demand.

A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey told The News Monday that Chinese steel will build some of roadway bridges at the airport.

It’s also relying on steel fabricated in Canada for part of the Terminal B building.

The Port Authority said it’s in compliance with the mandates required by its funding.

“The public-private-partnership contract has a requirement that 50% of the steel be domestic and LaGuardia Gateway Partners — our PPP partner — is meeting that goal,” the spokesman said.

LaGuardia Airport is not the only Port Authority project using foreign steel. A contractor hired to overhaul a Holland Tunnel Pier bought steel from several of the U.S.’s most cut-throat competitors — Turkey, Eastern Europe and China, the spokesman said.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said the Port Authority’s “blatant outsourcing” was at odds with Gov. Cuomo’s insistence on a “Buy American” clause in his latest budget — and even at odds with President Trump’s “Buy America, Hire America” pledge.

“The cost (of this) is more American jobs. It is our hope that the Port Authority reconsiders using Chinese and foreign steel. There are thousands of unemployed factory workers anxious to get back to making steel here in America,” said Paul.

“America’s steel makers are capable and waiting. It is unacceptable that major public infrastructure projects in New York are providing jobs overseas,” he added.

But it’s not just the Port Authority bypassing American steelmakers — the city’s Department of Environmental Protection also brought in Chinese steel for its work rebuilding the Hudson River aqueduct.

And in 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority set off shockwaves by outsourcing $235 million worth of work on its Verrazano bridge upgrade to China.

Even President Trump’s patriotic proclamations may not come true, the U.S. steel industry fears.

At a Tennessee rally last week, he repeated his pledge to buy American materials for pipelines — but only those that are newly-constructed.

“I’ve authorized the construction of the long-stalled and delayed Keystone and Dakota Access pipeline,” Trump said at the gathering.

“I’ve also directed that new pipelines must be constructed with American steel. They want to build them here, they use our steel. We believe in two simple rules: Buy American and hire American,” he added.

Two weeks earlier, on March 3, his administration had admitted it couldn’t make good on his campaign promise to use American material on the Keystone — because foreign purchases had already been made.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it’s because of language in a presidential directive Trump issued in January.

“The way that executive order is written, it’s specific to new pipelines or those that are being repaired,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“And since this one is already currently under construction, the steel is already literally sitting there, it would be hard to go back,” she said.

About half the project’s steel will be from foreign sources, the contractor said.

And even Trump’s written executive order on buying American steel has loopholes large enough for an eyebeam to pass through.

It calls for U.S. steel and pipes to be used “to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law,” — hardly a guarantee of American content.

The flaws on the federal level make Gov. Cuomo’s efforts to enforce a “Buy American” proviso in New York all the more imperative, said Mario Cilento, head of the state AFL-CIO.

Sixty New York steelmakers will be in Albany on Tuesday to lobby the state Legislature on behalf of Cuomo’s mandate — and for more jobs for domestic steelmakers, who are being undercut by cheaper foreign materials.

“We have the most highly skilled workers in the world as well as the infrastructure to do these types of jobs right here in New York,” said Cilento, who said it was “disappointing” to learn of the Port Authority’s steel choices.

“That’s why I applaud Gov. Cuomo for making Buy American a top priority. We should be maximizing our tax dollars to create good union manufacturing jobs and strengthening local economies,” Cilento said.


Gateway tunnel in trouble as Trump looks to kill key funding program

March 17th, 2017

By Ryan Hutchins

In a move that endangers the ability of the federal government to pay for construction of the Gateway rail tunnel, President Donald Trump proposed a budget this week that eliminates New Starts, a key infrastructure grant program that was expected to be one of the largest funding sources for the tubes under the Hudson River.

The president’s budget would limit New Starts funding to projects that already have existing full-funding agreements in place, according to a summary released Thursday. Any new transit initiatives would be paid for “by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” the White House said in announcing plans to cut transportation funding by 13 percent.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said the elimination of the Federal Transit Administration program puts Gateway on the chopping block.

“President Trump’s proposal to eliminate the New Starts program — and the Gateway Project along with it — is irresponsible, short-sighted, and demonstrates a complete failure of leadership,” Menendez said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “President Trump is single-handedly trying to derail Gateway and send a catastrophic ripple effect that will cause irreparable harm to our regional and national economies.”

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, said the budget would “stop the progress of the vital Gateway Tunnel project dead in its tracks.”

The proposal came as a shock to many involved in the project because Trump had promised to launch a $1 trillion investment in the nation’s infrastructure. The new rail tunnel was expected to be among his top priorities.

The Gateway Program, which includes the new tunnel and other improvements to ease congestion along the busiest stretch of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, would replace the aging tubes that run under the Hudson River, linking New Jersey to Manhattan. Those tubes are nearing the end of their useful life and may need to be taken out of service within the next two decades.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have agreed to have their states split half of the cost of the project and had anticipated the federal government to cover the remainder. The Obama administration had made the project one of its top transportation priorities. The project is expected to cost about $20 billion.

The first phase of the Gateway project, which includes the new tunnel and replacement of the troublesome Portal Bridge in New Jersey, was accepted into the New Starts pipeline last year but had not yet received a full funding commitment, said John D. Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corp. Gateway, he said, is “the most urgent infrastructure project in America.”

“Zeroing out funding for New Starts will interrupt both of these critical projects and delay the start of construction, which in the case of the Portal Bridge, was anticipated to begin this year,” Porcari said in a statement. “Any proposed cut to transportation programs like New Starts is a major concern.”

At a press briefing in Washington, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said cuts in transportation and other programs did not necessarily mean more funding won’t arrive later. He said the infrastructure initiative may not be unveiled until this summer or fall and could include one-off funding for projects.

“The infrastructure program is something we just recently started” working on,” Mulvaney said.

In a statement, Christie’s office said the governor, a close friend of Trump, will “fight any federal funding cut.”

“The Governor has worked hard to develop a project which will ease commuting to New York City without all the practical and fiscal shortcomings of the ARC tunnel project,” spokesman Brian Murray said, referring to a similar project Christie unilaterally killed. “Gateway tunnel is that project. New Jersey and New York are committed to funding their fair share. He will do all he can to fight any federal funding cut to this project of regional and national importance.”

Still, Menendez said Trump’s decision was jarring given the president’s commitment to infrastructure and his background as a New York real estate developer.

“President Trump’s campaign rhetoric about investing in our nation’s infrastructure has proven to be just that — empty words used to win an election that he has no intention of delivering on,” said Menendez, who estimated a Northeast Corridor shutdown would cost $100 million a day. “Dismissing transit infrastructure as ‘localized’ projects is an outdated and dismissive mindset that fails to recognize transit’s central role in our regional and national economy.”


In Syracuse speech, Cuomo revives I-81 tunnel and promises more subsidies

January 11th, 2017

By Jimmy Vielkind

ALBANY — Apparently overruling officials at the state Department of Transportation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday revived the possibility that an elevated stretch of Interstate 81 in Syracuse would be replaced by a tunnel.

Cuomo, a Democrat, said the DOT would consider a tunnel or depressed highway option during the fifth leg of his State of the State tour. DOT engineers, who have long been studying options to replace the aging (and out-of-code) viaduct in the city ruled out a tunnel in October, citing high costs.

“We want to make sure we look at it from all angles to make the best decision that we can, and we want to do some more study to make sure we have all the alternatives and the feasibility of these alternatives,” Cuomo said. “DOT has started their environmental review, and they’re going to be studying three options: a community grid options, a tunnel option — or a depressed highway option — and they will also be studying a combination of the community grid plus the tunnel and the community grid plus the depressed highway to see what is the most feasible and what does the most good and what is the most economic.”

There’s been much debate over what to do about I-81, which bisects Syracuse on its north-south axis and effectively separates its downtown from the hill containing major hospitals and Syracuse University.

Many urban leaders, including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner (who has feuded with Cuomo) said they would like to see through traffic diverted to another highway and a street-level grid implemented. Suburban interests, including the owners of the Destiny USA mall and Senate Deputy Leader John DeFrancisco, see the flow of traffic along the highway as important for their business.

Cuomo said in a press release that the DOT, which began its review in 2013, would engage an “independent expert with international tunnel expertise” for the additional review.

The governor’s speech included two other major economic development announcements.

After repeating familiar themes about the importance of high-tech jobs, Cuomo announced the state would give Saab $30 million to put the North American headquarters of its defense division in Onondaga County.

The move would create 260 new jobs, Cuomo promised, and builds on research on drones that has been ongoing at Griffiss Air Base in Rome as well as by existing aerospace companies in the Syracuse suburbs.

“We have been ahead of this from day one. The development is all happening here,” Cuomo said.

The governor also announced state resources to renovate Hancock International Airport, which Cuomo said was dark, unwelcoming and outdated. The overhaul would cost $45 million and include a new regional aviation museum.

Finally, Cuomo said he would place new “Buy American” preferences on state contracts that exceed $100,000. The move was cheered by New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, who was present for the speech.

“Our hard-earned tax dollars, as well as our jobs, should not be sent overseas, particularly when we have the best skilled workers in the world ready to do the job,” Cilento stated. “With Buy American, we will be creating good manufacturing jobs and strengthening local economies, including right here at home in New York.”


Fixing America’s infrastructure one career at a time

September 6th, 2016

By Robert Bartels Jr.

As the presidential campaign heats up this fall, one of the few topics on which both candidates seem to largely agree is the need for our country to seriously invest in fixing, improving and expanding public infrastructure. Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have announced plans to pour billions into infrastructure.

The Clinton campaign has put the amount at $275 billion over five years, while Trump has vowed to double that. Many experts believe even those amounts are not enough to improve our existing roads, bridges, ports, airports and other major transportation and utility infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America a D+ in its most recent report card on the state of our infrastructure and earlier this year estimated we will need to spend $1.4 trillion between now and 2025 and $5.2 trillion by 2040.

In addition to the benefits this would bring to our economy by allowing goods to be moved faster and more efficiently, creating a true and lasting national infrastructure plan will create jobs. Currently, some 14.5 million Americans work in infrastructure-related jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than in education or manufacturing. Increasing spending on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars would of course add significantly to that number.

Of course, this begs an important question: What kind of jobs? Will the people who build and maintain everything from highways to water tunnels to electricity grids be climbing the ladder into the middle class or will they be mired at the bottom of the economic rung, left without decent pay, health care, benefits or job security?

It is vital that as we expand economic opportunities, we do it in a way that actually helps the people who will be gaining those opportunities. People need not only jobs; they need jobs that allow them to live, work and raise a family in their communities. They need jobs that provide benefits and protections should they be injured, jobs that give them the ability to save for retirement and send their children to college. Historically in America, these types of blue-collar jobs, and the dignity and stability they provide workers, have been achieved via unions.

We hear a lot of negative rhetoric about unions from politicians and business leaders alike. But it was the union movement that gave our society the 40-hour, five-day workweek; paid overtime; workplace safety standards; and the creation of OSHA, which ensures that people are protected at potentially dangerous worksites. It was unions that pushed for health benefits and paid sick time.

Starting in the era of the Gilded Age, it was the labor movement – galvanized later by the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Lower Manhattan in 1911 – that helped create the nation’s first building codes, mandatory stairwells and fire safety regulations, all of which have undoubtedly saved countless lives in the century since.

So as we pause to recognize and honor hard-working men and women on Labor Day, let’s not lose sight of what organized labor has achieved for this country. It has allowed generations of Americans to rise above abject poverty and inequality imposed on working class people, especially in the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century. Those times are remembered for lavish mansions and lifestyles of the super-wealthy, which were fed by low wages and work exploitation.

The gains we have made did not come without struggle and we must be vigilant to ensure that new jobs now and in the future help workers join in the effort to move our country forward, rather than get left behind in poverty and uncertainty.

Robert Bartels, Jr. is a 35-year piping industry veteran and Business Agent-at-Large of the 8,500-member Steamfitters Local 638. Steamfitters design, install and maintain critical fire sprinklers, piping, heating and cooling systems in tens of thousands of high-occupancy commercial, residential and industrial buildings throughout the New York region.


Three Years in Two Minutes

August 29th, 2016

New Video Captures Construction Progress

The New NY Bridge project has become a symbol for what the state can accomplish.

Watch the new twin-span crossing take shape during the past three years in this new time-lapse video. From steel girders to concrete towers, from piles to road deck, from shoreline to shoreline, the transformation has been amazing.

Initiated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the 3.1-mile New NY Bridge project is one of the largest active projects of its kind in the nation.

The time-lapse video debuted today as part of Governor’s Day at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, a 12-day celebration that shares the best that New York State has to offer. For those visiting the State Fair, you can check out the video at the Governor’s booth.

The video is also available on the New NY Bridge project’s YouTube page.

Those interested in a closer look are also invited to view the daily project progress via the project’s webcams and photo gallery as well as by visiting the New NY Bridge construction viewing platforms at Scenic Hudson RiverWalk in Tarrytown and Memorial Park in Nyack.

Federal funding for Gateway project gains steam

July 13th, 2016

By Dana Rubinstein and Ryan Hutchins

In November, the federal government and the states of New York and New Jersey agreed to split the formidable cost of replacing the sole, rapidly deteriorating train tunnel connecting Midtown Manhattan to New Jersey.
The states’ funding plan, which was to be developed by an entity housed in the Port Authority, has long been shrouded in mystery – including how the two states plan to split their half of the burden.

On Monday, a Port spokesman declined to provide any more details about the status of the scheme.

“Seems like there are so many more immediate things to worry about. I honestly have not even thought about that scenario,” said New Jersey State Sen. Bob Gordon, a Democrat who chairs his chamber’s Legislative Oversight Committee and has spent a considerable amount of time advocating for the Gateway project.

In Washington, things are moving slightly more quickly. In the coming days, the federal Department of Transportation is expected to announce that two elements of the Gateway Program will begin the two-part review process required to access grants from the New Starts program, which has helped fund mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway.

The “project development” phase of the New Starts process involves the “complete environmental review process including developing and reviewing alternatives, selecting locally preferred alternative (LPA), and adopting it into the fiscally constrained long range transportation plan,” according to the transportation department’s website.

The new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River and the new Portal Bridge in New Jersey, which will replace the existing, century-old, bottleneck of a swinging bridge over the Hackensack River, are expected to cost upwards of $10 billion. The overall Gateway program – including an expansion of Penn Station – is expected to cost more than $20 billion.

New Starts, along with other federal grant and loan programs, are expected to comprise a bulk of the federal government’s contribution to the plan.

The existing rail tunnel, which is owned by Amtrak but most heavily used by NJ Transit, was falling apart even before Hurricane Sandy inundated it with salt water.

Since then, federal officials have warned that its demise is imminent.

Spokesmen for Amtrak and the USDOT declined comment for this story.
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