- During a press conference after meeting with President Donald Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave an update on discussions around the $13 billion Gateway Program tunnel replacement project between New Jersey and New York City.
- Cuomo said he scored the meeting with Trump after he sent the president a video depicting the 100-year-old tunnels’ current state of decay and damage, caused in large part by 2012's Superstorm Sandy. The president’s administration has been reluctant to honor an Obama-era deal that would see the federal government pay for half of the tunnel project’s costs because Trump has maintained that it is a regional project and therefore state and local sources should bear the burden of financing. Cuomo said the federally-owned tunnels affect all train traffic in the northeastern U.S. and 20% of the country’s overall transit, making its efficient operation a national concern. Cuomo characterized Amtrak’s entire Gateway program as a $30 billion, “massive undertaking that needs to get done,” but put added emphasis on the tunnel portion of the initiative, calling it an “urgent need” because of the lead time that could see approvals and construction take up to a decade.
- Cuomo said both he and the president are “skeptical” of handing over construction of the tunnels to the government and discussed bidding the project out internationally and using a public-private partnership. Cuomo said he and Trump also both had doubts about the accuracy of Amtrak’s cost estimates for both the tunnel project and the entire Gateway initiative, and discussed getting third-party estimates to verify the numbers. Cuomo said the meeting was positive, productive and that the president was planning on taking “the next steps.”
It was no surprise that the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed by the president in March left out earmarks for the tunnel project, while providing money for the U.S.-Mexico border wall ($1.6 billion), highways ($3.5 billion), other rail projects ($3.1 billion), state and local infrastructure ($1.9 billion) and a General Services Administration construction and modernization program ($1.2 billion).
In line with what Cuomo said he and the president discussed, the Gateway program’s governing authority, the Gateway Program Development Corp., has already been exploring the possibility of using the private sector to carry out the project. During its most recent update of the tunnel project, the GPDC also pointed to takeaways from a recent Request for Information from the private sector, including the importance of early work as a way of staying on schedule and the potential advantages of soliciting "alternative technical concepts to achieve best value."