WASHINGTON, DC -- House of Representatives passed the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations package on Tuesday. Several provisions were introduced or requested by Congressman Tom Malinowski, whose district covers a small section of Scotch Plains, to compel the Department of Transportation (DOT) to spend the money it has been allocated to build the Gateway Tunnel Project.
- First, the bill makes permanent provisions included in Congressman Malinowski’s first legislative initiative: The Transportation Funding Fairness Act (TFFA). The inclusion of the language will make it easier for New Jersey to finance its portion of the Gateway project by allowing states to count federal transportation loans toward their share of jointly funded infrastructure projects through 2020. This was the long-standing practice of the DOT until last year when it started counting loans taken out by New Jersey as federal spending in a transparent effort to delay approval of Gateway.
- Second, the bill prohibits Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao from hiring additional political and Presidential appointees at the DOT until she does her job and allocates grant funding provided by Congress for projects supported by the Federal Railroad Administration. This will help ensure that the funds Congress intended to support the first stage of the Gateway Project, including the Portal Bridge, are in fact allocated.
- Third, the bill requires the DOT to support projects currently in development for engineering, a category that applies both to the Portal Bridge and the Hudson River Tunnel, if it deems that the projects have a 50% chance of going over their cost estimates, rather than the 35% standard that currently applies.
- Fourth, the bill includes an amendment Congressman Malinowski offered to shift $1 million in funding from the Secretary’s office to DOT’s Inspector General. This provision responds to recent reports that the Secretary of Transportation appointed a senior official to clear a path for transportation projects important to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
- Fifth, the bill increases funding for Amtrak Northeast Corridor grants from $650 million in FY 2019 to $700 million for FY 2020. The Administration had requested just $325 million. The bill makes clear that grants awarded by Amtrak should not be contingent on the approval of the DOT, which should exercise influence only via its single seat on the Amtrak Board of Directors.
“I have little confidence that we will persuade the Administration to support Gateway out of the goodness of its heart,” Congressman Malinowski said. “Congress must step up, and today the House signaled that we will do what is necessary to ensure that the nation’s most important infrastructure project is completed.”