Congress can move Gateway along
While President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan is important to unlock new sources of financing, the future of crucial initiatives in New York and the Northeast remain uncertain. The White House and Congress must now prioritize regional infrastructure projects that would improve transportation access for millions of commuters across the metropolitan area.
New York City is the epicenter of the Northeast Corridor, the nation’s most economically vital stretch of rail infrastructure, which carries 820,000 passengers to work each day in major cities from Washington to Boston. With hundreds of thousands of commuters riding Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and New Jersey Transit trains every day, New Yorkers are among the prime reasons why the U.S. economy would lose around $100 million if the corridor rail system were to shut for just a day.
While significant attention has recently been paid to New York City’s struggling subways, it will be impossible to shore up the region’s transportation infrastructure without focusing on the railways that drive growth and deliver suburban workers to and from work safely and reliably. That focus should begin with the $30 billion Gateway Project, which has stalled for years but remains critical to ensure the long-term health of transit networks across the metro area and the businesses that rely on them.
The two-track North River Tunnel, which connects the city to New Jersey via the Hudson River, was heavily damaged when superstorm Sandy inundated both tracks with seawater. Shutting down just one track — an inevitability without capital for improvements — would reduce Amtrak and New Jersey Transit by 75 percent, hurt the productivity of businesses and ruin the commutes of nearly 300,000 workers on 450 daily trains.
The Gateway Project would prevent such a crisis by constructing a new two-track tunnel under the Hudson and allowing repairs to be made on the damaged tunnel without a service interruption. Those improvements would double the existing rail capacity — meaning faster and safer commutes.
All that remains is laying out dedicated sources of funding — and that is where the White House and Congress must work together. Trump’s $200 billion plan opens some doors for potential funding mechanisms that could help launch Gateway and other initiatives. Leaders on both sides of the aisle should build on that momentum by devoting significant federal resources to get the projects underway. In particular, the Congressional appropriations committees have an important role to play to fund intercity passenger and commuter rail along the Northeast Corridor.
Trump’s plan introduces two primary ways to fund key projects. One is through the $100 billion in incentive grants that the federal government would provide to states to underwrite costs. Another option would be for states or the Gateway Program Development Corporation to apply for funding through the new $20 billion fund for “projects of national significance” that “can lift the American spirit.”
There is no doubt that Gateway meets that description, which is also true of other projects along the corridor that need significant funding.
Regardless of how long these projects have been stalled, riders and businesses across the region should be encouraged by all of this news — but they know that the work of revitalizing our nation’s infrastructure has just begun.
Trump’s plan is a first step to strengthen the American economy. The next is to ensure that critical rail projects in New York and throughout the corridor have the financial support necessary to bring America’s infrastructure into the 21st century.
Michael Friedberg is executive director of the advocacy group Coalition for the Northeast Corridor.