Gateway: Despite little progress, NJ leaders remain optimistic

The Murphy administration and New Jersey’s Congressional delegation are maintaining confidence that the trans-Hudson River Gateway Tunnel and Portal Bridge will garner federal funding and approval, despite little progress over the past year from the Trump White House, which has held the project up in what some argue is purely a political move.

“New Jersey is ready to get started on America’s next big infrastructure project, but we can’t do that until the Trump administration stops its delays and removes its artificial roadblocks,” Murphy said Wednesday morning at a press conference at the New Jersey Transit Secaucus Junction station.

The event largely mirrored a similar press conference from the year before where Gov. Phil Murphy said the Portal Bridge project was “shovel-ready” and simply needed a nod from the federal government and dollars to boot.

The 2018 press conference was held at park overlooking the Portal North Bridge, a swing drawbridge on the Northeast Corridor Line that frequently gets stuck and needs to manually be put back into place. Wednesday’s press event was scheduled to be held at the same place, but moved due to inclement weather.

The Trump administration has been opposed to the projects, backtracking on a promise by the Obama administration to fund the plan 50/50 and arguing that whatever applications are submitted lack critical information to make them eligible for consideration.

A shutdown of either the bridge and tunnel – or reduced capacity to address critical repairs – could cripple the line which accommodates 200,000 New Jersey commuters daily, and upward of 800,000 who traverse the line to travel up and down the East Coast.

Proponents of the tunnel argue that progress among New York, New Jersey and Amtrak for the two projects, collectively called Gateway, with a $30 billion price tag has lurched forward.

An application for tunnel funding last week scaled down the price tag by $1.4 billion from $12.7 billion to $11.3 billion – half of which would be jointly funded by New Jersey and New York, which the parties said could likely make the application more attractive.

“We’ve done everything we have to do in terms of the regulatory approval process and providing the funding on the state level,” said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6th District.

U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-7th District, said Wednesday that he has been involved in promising talks with the head of the Federal Transit Administration. “I spoke to the FTA just last week, and I heard for the very first time, ‘no more excuses’. They acknowledged that we have taken every single step to get this thing off the ground,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the past year, which Malinowski said allowed for Congressional approval of money earmarked for the project. But the FTA denied funding for both projects in March, ranking them both as “medium-low” and ineligible for funding, despite the federal dollars from Congress.

“None of the non-[Capital Investment Grants] funds are committed or budgeted. All of the funds are planned or uncertain,” the FTA wrote in its decision.

“No funding is currently available to cover unexpected CIG capital cost increases or funding shortfalls,” the statement continues. “[NJ Transit] did not demonstrate access to funds via additional debt capacity, cash reserves, or other committed funds to cover annual system wide operating expenses in excess of the current forecast.”

Jerry Zaro, who heads the Gateway Development Corp., which would physical accept the state and federal dollars and oversee the project, said that the creation of the GDC is a major step for the project.

“We aren’t standing still,” Zaro added, pointing to, “construction on some of the things you don’t see… 11-12 projects underway, preparatory projects, because of the help from our Congressional delegation we now have the funding to pay for that.”

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