AP NEWS

Schumer seeks bill to force action on rail tunnel project

March 4, 2019

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said Monday he plans to propose legislation to break a funding impasse with the federal government and get the stalled, multibillion-dollar Gateway rail project moving forward.

The Democrat told a business group his proposed bill would allow New Jersey and New York to advance money to get construction started and require the federal government to reimburse them.

Gateway program officials and Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy hailed Schumer’s announcement Monday, though it wasn’t immediately clear how the legislation would be able to force the government to provide reimbursement.

The two components of Gateway’s first phase — a $13.7 billion new tunnel under the Hudson River and an associated $1.7 billion replacement bridge over New Jersey’s Hackensack River — have completed preliminary work and are awaiting federal funding commitments to begin construction. New Jersey has committed $600 million to the bridge project, to be borrowed by the state’s economic development authority.

Both structures are more than a century old. The tunnel, already prone to delays caused by aging overhead electrical wires, suffered saltwater damage in 2012′s Superstorm Sandy that is eroding concrete and cables. The bridge must open to allow boats to pass underneath and occasionally becomes stuck and has to be manually fitted back in place, causing delays that ripple up and down the corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

Closing either of the tunnel’s two tubes for repairs even for a day would affect hundreds of trains and hundreds of thousands of travelers.

The bill “will allow local partners to advance the federal share for shovel-ready projects today by requiring they be reimbursed once the federal funding grant is in place,” Schumer said.

Schumer and fellow Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez of New Jersey have accused the Trump administration of stalling the project over political differences. Federal officials have said the states aren’t committing enough of their own money, a primary reason the Department of Transportation has given both projects medium-low ratings. That rating disqualifies them from crucial grant programs.