- In what some have characterized as an unrealistic denial of the economic impact Northeast U.S. transportation systems have on the U.S. overall, President Donald Trump excluded federal funding for the proposed $13 billion Hudson River rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey in his $4.7 trillion 2020 budget request to Congress.
- The president also cut funding by about half to Amtrak’s entire $30 billion Northeast Corridor rail modernization initiative, providing only $325 million. In the $333 billion Feb. 15 appropriations bill, which ended the recent 35-day federal shutdown, the administration allocated $650 million for the Northeast Corridor. But during a Monday call with reporters, according to Bloomberg, Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen denied any of that money was earmarked for Gateway projects, which include the Hudson River tunnel and New Jersey’s Portal Bridge projects.
- Rosen said the Gateway projects are the responsibility of local and state governments and that "there is no reason for the federal government to have those projects jump the line and receive massive federal subsidies for projects that presently are ineligible and which lack realistic plans and commitments.”
The Trump administration has made no bones about letting state and local governments across the country know that projects securing the most non-federal financial support will be first in line for federal funding. This view was reiterated in the president’s new budget proposal. So, the challenge on the part of New York and New Jersey officials is to demonstrate the national importance of the tunnel and other Northeast transportation systems.
Approximately 400 trains and 200,000 passengers travel the Hudson River tunnel every day, according to the Associated Press, and a report from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s office pegs the regional and national economic impact of just a one-day shutdown of either of the tunnel’s two tubes at $100 million.
The 100-year-old tunnel sustained significant saltwater intrusion damage during 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. Barring another flood event, the system has an estimated 10 to 15 years of operational life left as long as there are significant maintenance investments made in the system.
Obtaining federal funding for infrastructure projects has always been a lengthy ordeal of paperwork and approvals for local and state agencies, but the Trump administration seems to have tightened the screws on those who seek financial help for their projects, even after a natural disaster.
California officials got the word earlier this month from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that almost half of their $639 reimbursement claim for repairs to the Oroville, California, dam — which suffered damage during heavy rains in February 2017 — had been denied. FEMA said much of the dam’s problems were a result of poor design, construction and state oversight, which made the state ineligible for $306 million of their request. The repair costs for the project now could top $1 billion.