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Lawmakers, Trump claim victory in Gateway funding fight

The struggle for federal money for a New York-New Jersey transportation infrastructure program came down to the wire as Congress debated a $1.3 trillion spending bill.

The Gateway project includes building a new Hudson

The Gateway project includes building a new Hudson River underwater tunnel, which would allow the existing North River tunnels, seen here, to be repaired. The improvements, which directly benefit Amtrak and NJ Transit, also will alleviate LIRR capacity at Penn Station. Photo Credit: Amtrak

WASHINGTON — Both sides declared victory Thursday after New York and New Jersey lawmakers struggled to assure Gateway funding in the must-pass omnibus spending bill despite President Donald Trump’s threat to veto it if it did.

Trump did get his way: The $900 million of dedicated funding for Gateway that had been in the bill was jettisoned in the final $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that passed the House Thursday and awaited Senate approval as the midnight Friday deadline neared.

The U.S. Transportation Department declared, “Congress is now considering a spending bill that provides billions in needed funding for infrastructure projects across the country and also removes preferential treatment for the New York and New Jersey Gateway projects.”

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said New York, New Jersey and the Northeast Corridor also declared that his side won the needed money after negotiators included additional transportation funding that will yield $540 million for Gateway.

“We provided a reliable pathway for one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country: Gateway,” Schumer said at a news conference. “And the people in New York today are very happy with the results.”

Schumer said the bill contains a “firm” $540 million, which includes $380 million in extra Amtrak funding for capital improvement in the Northeast Corridor and $125 million that New York and New Jersey governors can spend at their discretion.

“Amtrak regards the number one capital improvement as the Gateway project, and we worked with them closely all along on this,” Schumer said. He said he talked to both governors, who told him “they’re going to use it for Gateway.”

In a statement, Amtrak president Richard Anderson said, “The increased [Northeast Corridor] capital funding will allow us to address many important needs along the Corridor and we look forward to working closely with the Department of Transportation on investing these funds to advance the most critical projects.”

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Trump told him in a conversation at the St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at the Capitol last week, and again in a telephone call Tuesday evening, that “he would support the project” and money for Gateway would be in transportation funding.

The White House did not respond to queries.

Earlier, a $900 million appropriation for the Gateway Program to build a new tunnel for Amtrak under the Hudson River and repair the Portal Bridge — which the House passed in an early version of the spending bill — seemed to be on a glide path to passage.

Then, during the Rev. Billy Graham’s Feb. 28 funeral, Trump told House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to remove Gateway funding from the bill. Trump threatened to veto the spending bill needed to keep the government open until Oct. 1 if the dedicated Gateway funding stayed in.

After that, King, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook), along with several New Jersey Republicans pressed Ryan and the White House to include funding for Gateway, which they said is crucial to the Northeast and national economy.

Gateway often came up as one of the sticking points as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Schumer, Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) negotiated the final omnibus spending bill.

McConnell and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, strongly opposed any dedicated funding for the Gateway projects.

Ryan, concerned about the spending bill vote and the midterm elections, argued funding was needed to protect New Jersey Republicans, according to one person with knowledge of the negotiations.

McConnell and Ryan press aides referred questions to the Senate and House appropriations committees, which did not respond to queries. In the end, Ryan cited Gateway as a reason for Trump to support the bill.

“In a bill like this, where you have lots of misinformation or confusion surrounding a bill like this, it’s important,” Ryan said of his last-minute meeting with Trump to get his support.

“Take Gateway for example. The House-passed bill had very specific language in Gateway that basically steered the money to one predictable project. We stripped that language from this bill so there’s more discretion for the administration and other cities, like Chicago or Philadelphia, could get those transportation dollars.”

With Alfonso A. Castillo

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