Trump budget proposal raises concern over Hudson rail tunnel

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The federal budget proposal issued by President Donald Trump this week could stop or set back a project to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, officials involved in the effort said Thursday.

The Republican’s proposed spending plan puts in jeopardy billions of dollars in federal funding crucial to the Gateway project by only paying for projects that have advanced to the final contract stage, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said.

The tunnel project has been approved for the funding program, called New Starts, but doesn’t have a final grant agreement.

“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.

Menendez’s fellow Democratic senator, Cory Booker, said in an email the proposal is “a slap in the face to our region’s commuters and would deliver a devastating blow to our local economic growth.”

Another component of the Gateway project, a replacement for the century-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in northern New Jersey, a source of regular delays, also could be jeopardized.

Environmental permitting, engineering and design for a new bridge have been completed, and the project only awaits federal dollars to begin construction. Yet, like the tunnel, the Portal Bridge would be left out under the current budget proposal.

“Zeroing out funding for New Starts will interrupt both of these critical projects and delay the start of construction, which in the case of Portal Bridge, was anticipated to begin this year,” John Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corp., said in an email.

The tunnel, which is more than 100 years old, is expected to cost close to $10 billion, half to be paid by the federal government and half by New York and New Jersey through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Through a spokesman, Republican Gov. Chris Christie said he “will do all he can to fight any federal funding cut to this project of regional and national importance.”

The tunnel is seen as a crucial need for the New York City region, as well as the wider Northeast transportation network. It already operates at peak capacity and is the site of delays due to electrical problems that can have a ripple effect along Amtrak’s 457-mile Northeast Corridor, between Washington, D.C., and Boston.

About 750,000 people ride the corridor each day on Amtrak or several commuter lines, according to Amtrak.

The tunnel suffered saltwater damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and Amtrak officials have said that will force them to take both of its tubes out service for repairs within the next 15 to 20 years. Officials have painted a dire picture of crippling delays if a new tunnel isn’t finished before then.