The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan will be out in a few weeks and will call for $200 billion in taxpayer money to generate $1 trillion in private investment in over ten years.
President Trump’s pledge to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure was a top campaign promise, but has received little attention amidst the daily disasters of his administration. Indeed, it may be the rare area that appears ripe for bipartisan support. Not that there isn’t some concern that the plan to have private investment will come at the cost of reducing environmental review and community consultation on projects.
How does this affect New York and New Jersey, which are experiencing critical mass transit problems on a daily basis? And then there is the matter of the Gateway Program, the multi-billion-dollar project to build a new, two-track Hudson River rail tunnel; rehabilitate the existing 107-year-old North River Tunnel that was damaged by Superstorm Sandy; and build a new high-span Portal Bridge to replace the aged and cranky movable bridge over the Hackensack River. These projects are to be jointly funded by New Jersey, New York and the federal government. But the so-called New Starts federal infrastructure grant program initiated by the Obama Administration is now endangered by President Trump’s proposed budget – despite his avowal to invest in infrastructure.
“The Trump Administration has said that any New Starts funding that is not already locked in, will not happen,” explains Martin E. Robins, director emeritus at the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers. “Simply put, while the Trump Administration is not saying where and when any massive future infrastructure investment will be available and on what terms, by promising to eliminate the New Starts funding program, it has definitely thrown a wrench in the works for our region.”
While the Mexican border wall has been authorized by Executive Order dated January 25, 2017 and Congress has been requested to fund an initial $4.1 billion to begin construction, the Trump budget plan for 2018 cancelled out all federal funding for the Gateway tunnel.
The new tunnel was considered as one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country.
A little history is necessary. There was a plan to build a new tunnel as well as a new rail yard and a new station adjacent to Penn Station. This project was known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC), which was a joint project by New York and New Jersey. Construction began in mid-2009 and the project would have been completed next year in 2018. There were a series of takings by New Jersey condemning parcels necessary for the project. Then in 2010, Governor Christie cancelled the project citing the possibility of cost overruns. At this point some $600 million had been spent on the project. One of the more often cited explanations for Christie’s cancellation was his plans to run for national office.
The situation at Penn Station has been described as utter chaos with daily massive delays and crowds so out of control that police have had to shut down the entrance. One idea has been to build a new transit hub in Sunnyside, Queens to connect commuter lines with the subway system. Instead of making Penn Station the final stop for NJ Transit and LIRR commutes, trains would pass through instead of stopping and turning around.
As Bloomberg News put it, “Penn Station and the fast-decaying Hudson River tunnel that ends there are key to the Northeast Corridor, the Boston-to-Washington route that is the nation’s busiest, defying forecasts that inter-city rail was dying. Most of the 600,000 daily passengers are commuters participating in the $1.4 trillion New York regional economy, which accounts for 11 percent of annual U.S. gross domestic product, according to a 2014 report by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.”
Meanwhile, New York has selected a team to transform the adjoining Farley Post Office into a new Moynihan Station for Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road. The project will handle a minority of rail passengers and won’t open until 2020. We know that Amtrak will use eminent domain to acquire some adjoining privately owned parcels in the future. This certainly is a public purpose project.