Schumer’s plan to guarantee bridge, tunnel funding wins praise from Gateway, Murphy

GDC The Portal Bridge replacement project is part of the so-called Gateway Tunnel project.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York announced that he will push forward legislation that could get the Gateway Tunnel and Portal Bridge projects underway by guaranteeing reimbursement of states that advance the federal share of project funding.

Schumer sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s Republican administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation for holding up the funding on Gateway and similar projects. According to remarks he delivered Monday, the legislation “will allow local partners to advance the federal share for shovel-ready projects today by requiring they be reimbursed once the federal funding grant is in place.”

The Gateway Program Development Corp.’s trustees reacted quickly and favorably to the proposal.

“The legislation proposed today by Sen. Schumer would go a long way toward breaking the log jam in Washington over the critically important Gateway Program projects,” Jerry Zaro, Tony Coscia and Steven M. Cohen said in a prepared statement. “We appreciate his ongoing leadership and the commitment of our state and local partners in keeping Gateway moving forward, no matter what. As the recent (Regional Plan Association) report showed, the stakes are far too high to allow politics to further delay the start of major construction.”

Schumer said his proposal — which he intends to add to “must-pass legislation” — has the support of U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey as well as fellow New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. All four are Democrats.

“We look forward to meeting with the Senate delegations of New York and New Jersey next week to discuss this and other aspects of the Gateway program,” the GPDC trustees said.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat, also threw his support behind the proposal.

“The Gateway Program is critically important to the hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who rely on the cross-Hudson crossings, and any disruption would cripple our regional and national economies,” he said in a statement. “The political gridlock preventing its federal approval is unacceptable. New Jersey has acted as a willing partner throughout the process, and stands ready to provide $600 million in state funding to replace the Portal Bridge.

“We are all acutely aware of the risks associated with a failure to complete these projects, and I will continue to call on the Trump administration to join with us as true partners to prevent a needless catastrophe. I applaud Sen. Schumer for his leadership and advocacy, and I look forward to working with New York and New Jersey delegations, and all local partners, to move Gateway forward.”

Schumer, the Senate minority leader, explained his reasoning for the legislation bluntly:

“Right now, if New York and New Jersey raised every dollar they expected to spend on every piece of Gateway, they couldn’t spend a dime for fear that they’d never be reimbursed by (the Federal Transit Administration),” he said. “Under any normal administration, the states would go through the New Starts process and wait to spend their funds until they had a New Starts agreement for reimbursement. But this administration has cynically drawn out the process on (the) Portal (Bridge) — and we are running out of time.

“Our legislation would finally give sponsors of nationally significant projects the insurance they need to begin construction with local money while still in the New Starts pipeline. They aren’t required to advance the federal share, but, if this legislation passes, they will now have the assurance they will be reimbursed.

“The federal government has an obligation to move pieces of large-scale transportation projects like Gateway through the pipeline in a reasonable manner. Especially when there’s a big pot of accessible money, like New Starts, that has been fully funded and approved by Congress and the White House.

“In normal times, there would be no need for this legislation. But, because of President Trump’s intransigence and reckless obstruction on Gateway, this legislation is now necessary.”