The name game (or, a plan to get the rest of the Gateway Tunnel funding)

By Tom Bergeron
New Jersey | Mar 26, 2018 at 7:05 am
Editor’s Desk

The idea was said in a half-joking manner.

But the person, one of the top business leaders in the state, was more than half-serious.

And, when the subject is the uber-important Gateway Tunnel, and the topic is its hard-to-come-by funding, New Jerseyans should consider any scenario.

Try this one:

“Here’s my idea,” the person started. “We have the George Washington Bridge, we have the Lincoln Tunnel, just name it the Trump Tunnel, and we’ll get the money.

“I know that sounds awful for New Jersey and New York, but do you want the tunnel or not?”

The idea sounds a bit desperate.

But these are desperate times.

And times where names of projects apparently are incredibly important.

Consider this: The omnibus spending bill that President Donald Trump reluctantly signed — the one that seemingly promises the project more than $500 million and the potential access to a few billion more — never once used the word “Gateway.”

Seriously, our elected leaders — in a time when they needed to make sure the country has enough money to operate — played a nod-nod, wink-wink game in which they gave Amtrak extra funding, because the president has said he objects to the project.

At least for now.

You have to believe Trump knows the project needs to get done. And the project is still $29 billion or so short of cash.

This is just part of the way Trump negotiates.

How does New Jersey make sure the federal government backs the project enough to ensure all of the needed money will come?

Beat him at his own game.

That’s the view of our insider, who is not connected to the project.

“Just name it after the guy,” the person said. “He names everything after himself. What does it matter?”

Names actually do matter. Certainly, in this state.

Consider a different president: Woodrow Wilson.

Just ask the people at Princeton University, where they had a thoughtful debate about the use of a name of a president who is viewed differently in the eyes of history.

Wilson’s name, of course, remains at the school — and on various spots across the state, including a dozen or so elementary, middle and high schools as well as a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike (hard to top that honor).

Wilson, once the president of Princeton, was on the wrong side of basic civil rights, yet he remains connected to the state.

(READ MORE from ROI-NJ on President Trump and the spending bill.)

Of course, sometimes history forgets the people some things are named for, even when their accomplishments are worth remembering.

How many people know the Goethals Bridge is named after Maj. Gen. George Goethals, a West Point graduate who served in the Spanish-American War, supervised the construction of the Panama Canal and served as the first consulting engineer of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey?

Goethals is tied to a president, too. His full name: George Washington Goethals.

Which brings us back to the GW Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel, two crossings named after two of our greatest presidents.

Do we really want to name a crossing after Trump, who is not considered one of our greatest presidents?

Trump is a president whose character almost everyone questions, even the many who still agree with his politics. (And, let’s be fair and balanced — he still has plenty of supporters.)

Then again, does it really matter in the big picture? The region, after all, really needs the Gateway Tunnel.

So, what’s in a name?

We went back to our insider one more time.

“You want the money, appeal to the only thing we know he cares about: his own ego,” the person said.

Besides …

“We’re going to call it the Gateway Tunnel anyway.

“Just look at the Mario Cuomo Bridge — it’s still the Tappan Zee to me.”

And, if you know who (or what) the Tappan Zee is named after, let me know.