Efforts to construct an ambitious, multi-billion dollar tunnel under the Hudson River met yet another hurdle, this time in the halls of the state capitals in Trenton and Albany rather than the White House, as lawmakers push for stricter public oversight of a proposed bi-state government agency that would oversee the project.
The legistlative stumble came down to a smaller and quieter piece of law that would set up the Gateway Development Commission for New Jersey and New York, tasked with managing and financing the construction of the tunnel and several other regional infrastructure projects, collectively called the Gateway Project.
Currently, the nonprofit Gateway Development Corp. oversees the project, which at its current state deals with concept, design and preliminary construction.
The tunnels clock in at over a century old and advocates of the project argue that replacements are desperately needed to handle the hundreds of thousands of commuters traveling under the Hudson River each day.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, said she was concerned the commission would not be subject to enough scrutiny from the public and state legislatures of New York and New Jersey.
“I certainly want to make sure that they’re going to be operating under [Open Public Records Act] laws and that the Legislature, as well as the public … have a view of what’s going on there,” Weinberg told NJBIZ.
The legislative snafu – first reported last week by the Wall Street Journal – is relatively minor compared to the ongoing tug of war between the Trump administration and New Jersey lawmakers to have federal dollars committed to the project, something President Donald Trump has vehemently opposed.
Weinberg has made similar efforts to push for transparency of another bi-state organization—the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the major bridges, tunnels and airports in both states.
Her calls for transparency in years past came at the heels of the Christie-era Bridgegate scandal, which resulted in a prison sentence for alleged co-conspirator and former PANYNJ Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni.
Like with the Port Authority, any changes to a bi-state Gateway Development Commission would require the passage of identical legislation by both New York and New Jersey.
Weinberg said she has been involved in ongoing meetings with her New York Legislature counterpart, Assemblymember Amy Paulin, D-88th District, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions out of which the New York legislation must pass.
Paulin managed to get the legislation dropped from New York’s $175.5 billion budget package, which started April 1.
“Transparency is key” to ensuring public confidence in the agency, Paulin told NJBIZ. “We need to be very vigilant of our adoption of any new commissions or authorities.”
“I think as long as there is transparency and spotlight, or some light, and people have a chance to give their input without slowing things down, I think that’s important,” Weinberg added.
Steven Sigmund, a spokesperson for Gateway Development, said in a statement to NJBIZ that he was confident lawmakers would approve some measure of the new Gateway bill.