New Jersey lawmakers want to ensure that New Jersey Transit and Amtrak riders, as well as other commuters, do not bear the brunt of financing the ambitious Gateway program through fare increases and other usage fees.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, said that the Legislature would not approve any New Jersey picks to the Gateway Development Commission if they do not stick to that position. The corporation’s creation was signed into law on Monday by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
It would oversee the construction of a $12 billion tunnel under the Hudson River – replacing a century-old structure that was extensively damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 – the replacement of a swing drawbridge which frequently becomes stuck, as well as other surrounding projects.
Murphy and Cuomo would each nominate representatives from their respective states, which would require the approval of the state senate.
“I want to make it absolutely clear today that it is the bipartisan intent of the New Jersey legislative leadership that under no circumstance would we accept a scenario where New Jersey Transit’s operating budget – which continues to be underfunded – would be saddled with any portion of the construction cost of Gateway,” Weinberg said in a statement Monday night.
Weinberg said that New Jersey’s financing would come from the Transportation Trust Fund, which spends $2 billion annually on state roadway projects.
“We intentionally wrote the new $16 billion Transportation Trust Fund law in 2016 with no cap on annual borrowing in case we needed an extra $1 billion or more in any given year for Gateway or another major project,” she said.
The current funding proposal calls for New York and New Jersey to split the local costs of the project 50/50, while the federal government would finance the other half via loans.
Both states are in the process of preparing a new funding proposal for submission this fall.
The Federal Railroad Administration rated the project as ineligible for federal dollars, even though the rail line is owned by Amtrak, a federal agency.
State and federal officials put together a funding arrangement under the Obama administration, but that has since stalled once Donald Trump took office.
New Jersey officials and advocates of the project contend that Gateway has become a political pawn meant to twist the arms of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. Trump went so far as to threaten a veto to a prior spending bill last year if it included funding for Gateway.
“While the Trump administration continues to put politics ahead of the safety and economic security of the nation, New York and New Jersey are working together to get the job done,” reads a joint statement from Cuomo and Murphy. “The signing of this legislation will statutorily create the Gateway Development Commission as a bi-state entity to facilitate the new Hudson Tunnel Project.”
A spokesperson for Murphy did not immediately return a request for comment.
“We continue to work on the financing plan. First, we need a federal partner to fund the projects with New York, New Jersey and the Port Authority,” Gateway Development Corp. spokesperson Stephen Schapiro said in a statement.
The legislation puts constraints on how the corporation could enact toll and fare increases to finance the project, though it does not outright bar the practice. It would require extensive public comment, and that any money raised must “count toward the state share of funding.”