Lawmakers cite need for Sec. Chao to see firsthand the critical need for robust federal infrastructure funding

NEWARK, NJ – April 19, 2017 - In the wake of a series of crippling delays along the Northeast Corridor, today U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called on U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao to visit the century-old rail infrastructure connecting New Jersey and New York, including the trans-Hudson tunnels and Portal Bridge, to see firsthand the critical need for robust investment in our region’s rail and transit infrastructure.

“As you may know, the last two Secretaries of the Department of Transportation, Anthony Foxx and Ray LaHood, visited New York Penn Station during their tenures to discuss the importance of driving investment to the Northeast Corridor,” the lawmakers wrote. “Following in that tradition, a site visit, particularly one that allows you to witness the volume of passengers at peak travel times, will provide you detailed information about the status of the current infrastructure and the urgent need for federal investments in advancing the Gateway Project.”

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A budget proposal released by the Trump Administration in March slashes U.S. Department of Transportation discretionary programs by $2.4 billion, dramatically reduces federal support for Amtrak, and shutters the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. The budget proposal also zeros-out the New Starts capital grant program, which threatens to terminate work on critical components to the Gateway Program including replacing the century-old Portal Bridge in New Jersey and new trans-Hudson rail tunnels. 

As part of the New Jersey and New York senators' ongoing commitment to moving the Gateway Program forward, in December 2015 provisions benefiting Gateway were included in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the first Federal law in over ten years to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation. 

In helping to jumpstart Gateway, in August 2015 Sen. Booker convened a meeting to discuss governance and funding for the Gateway Program.

Coming out of that meeting, in November 2016 the Senators and Governors from New York and New Jersey joined in announcing they reached an agreement on funding commitments and a governance structure that will allow the Gateway Tunnel Project to move forward.

During a recent Commerce Committee markup, Sen. Booker citied the crippling impact of the recent derailments in opposing the nomination of Jeff Rosen as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) due to Mr. Rosen’s lack of commitment to supporting funding for New Starts and other critical programs for our nation’s infrastructure, including the Gateway Program. 

 

The full text of the letter to Sec. Chao is as follows:

April 19, 2017
The Honorable Elaine Chao
Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Secretary Chao:

As you continue your work to develop the Trump Administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure package, we urge you to consider the urgent need for major investments in our nation’s rail and transit infrastructure. Including the need to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River and replace the aging Portal Bridge in New Jersey, which together are responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of passengers each day in the largest metropolitan area in the United States.  

For the third time in less than a month, New York Penn Station was paralyzed this past Friday evening delaying and stranding thousands of commuters. While the cause of this most recent delay is not yet known, it is clear that the issue effectively blocked access into Penn Station in the same way that a failure in one of the two Hudson River tunnels would—causing massive delays and hardship for commuters. If we do not begin work on the Gateway Project—the proposal to build new tunnels and replace the portal bridge—these scenarios could become a permanent problem, wreaking havoc on the region. The economic losses for businesses and lost time and frustration of tens of thousands of our constituents in the last month are only a preview of what may come if construction of new tunnels and a replacement of the Portal Bridge do not begin immediately.

We have serious concerns about President Trump’s proposed funding cuts to programs that are critical to advancing the Gateway Project. The proposed cuts would derail important transportation projects all across the country including Gateway, and would have a disastrous impact on our regional and national economy. Rather than slashing infrastructure investments, we should work together on a plan to provide the major increases in direct federal infrastructure spending that our country desperately needs. Projects like Gateway and thousands of others across the country, including schools, roads and bridges, water and sewer systems, and more will only be advanced through a significant federal commitment to infrastructure investment.  

During your confirmation hearing, we were encouraged by your commitment to learn as much as possible about the Gateway Program and its significance to New York and New Jersey. Given the incredible importance of the Gateway Project to the nation’s economy and the current risk of a transportation and economic crisis should one or both of the tunnels have to be shut down, we would like to invite you to visit New York Penn Station and inspect the Hudson River tunnels and the Portal Bridge with us prior to unveiling the Trump Administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal.

As you may know, the last two Secretaries of the Department of Transportation, Anthony Foxx and Ray LaHood, visited New York Penn Station during their tenures to discuss the importance of driving investment to the Northeast Corridor. Following in that tradition, a site visit, particularly one that allows you to witness the volume of passengers at peak travel times, will provide you detailed information about the status of the current infrastructure and the urgent need for federal investments in advancing the Gateway Project.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to working together to improve the safety and reliability of our nation’s infrastructure.

Sincerely,