Senator Menendez: Trump is ‘weaponizing the DOT’ against Gateway Tunnel project

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U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) exclaimed that President Donald Trump (R) is ‘weaponizing the Department of Transportation” against the Gateway Tunnel project, the region’s most critical infrastructure project, during an unrelated presser in Bayonne yesterday.

“Well, we’re pleased that we got an extension through January, 2019 for the Portal Bridge to continue to work on the next phase of New Starts [capital investment funding program]. NJ Transit has also submitted a new financial plan to DOT that includes more local bond issuances, and we hope to have a new rating for the project soon,” Menendez told Hudson County View during a question and answer session with the media.

The senior senator, who is up for re-election in November, also expressed impatience over the administration’s tactics.

“As I have said, we don’t need to build a multibillion dollar wall on the Southern border. We need to build new tunnels under the Hudson River [to replace the ones] that are a century old. We will continue to work on the appropriation process to keep it moving, but it bothers me deeply that we had a high federal rating and all of a sudden the administration comes in and drops that rating.”

He concluded that “you can’t be weaponizing the Department of Transportation against a project of national significance.”

The Gateway Tunnel Project, which calls for constructing two new passenger rail tunnels under the Hudson River so that the current 104-year old tubes can be taken out of service for rehabilitation, is one of the most important and expensive projects for the tri-state area.

In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s (D) presidency, he had appeared to reach a funding agreement between New Jersey, New York and the federal government to each pay 50 percent of the massive project’s approximately $30 billion costs – though that never came to fruition.

Since his election, Trump has rescinded the agreement and even threatened to pull funding for it during the negotiations to pass an over $1 trillion omnibus spending bill in the spring.

His administration has argued that the states have to “have more skin in the game” by allocating monies from their own budgets towards the project rather than apply for federal loans to pay back over 30 years.

New Jersey recently announced that it would be investing up to $600 million funded through state-appropriation backed bonds to construct a new Portal Bridge North over the Hackensack River, another critical infrastructure piece of the Gateway project.

Crain’s NY Business reported last week that the Trump administration, despite New Jersey’s $600 million investment, is still balking at contributing critical federal dollars.

Back in May, also in Bayonne, a DOT official said that Gateway is “a fundamentally local transit project” that could succeed with a “responsible federal-local partnership.”

About nine hours after this story was published, a representative from the DOT, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, explained that some of the Gateway Project’s struggles are because it is not currently eligible for key federal grant monies.

“The Portal North Bridge and Hudson Tunnel Projects, part of the proposed Gateway Project are currently not eligible for funding under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program,” the source said.

” …  As required by law, the project’s eligibility for CIG funding and its rating under the statutory CIG evaluation criteria is reassessed when the project seeks to enter into the Engineering phase and again when it seeks a construction grant award. The Hudson Tunnel project has even more major outstanding actions required by the FTA that remain incomplete.”

 

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information from the U.S. Department of Transportation.