Dems urge Trump to include Northeast Corridor tunnel project in infrastructure bill

 Dems urge Trump to include Northeast Corridor tunnel project in infrastructure bill
© Greg Nash

A group of New York-area Senate Democrats is urging the Trump administration to include a Northeast Corridor rail and tunnel project in its $1 trillion infrastructure package.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandTrump thinks he could easily beat Sanders in 2020 match-up: report Listen: EMILY’s List upbeat about Dem House in '19 Desperate Democrats shouldn't settle for Oprah MORE (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezCongress must provide flexible funding for owners of repeatedly flooded properties Senate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case MORE (D-N.J.) also invited Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to come visit the region and see firsthand the need for investment.

“We would like to invite you to visit New York Penn Station and inspect the Hudson River tunnels and the Portal Bridge with us prior to unveiling the Trump Administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Chao. 

“A site visit will provide you detailed information about the status of the current infrastructure and the urgent need for federal investments in advancing the Gateway Project.”

The senators cited recent train derailments and delays at Penn Station in New York City, which they said could “become a permanent problem” if the Gateway project to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River and replace an aging bridge in New Jersey is not completed.

The connection between New Jersey and Penn Station — which moves hundreds of thousands of passengers each day — consists of a pair of 105-year-old tunnels that were already in desperate need of repair before additional damage from Superstorm Sandy.

With the tubes expected to be closed down at some point in the next decade for at least a year of repairs, the $24 billion Gateway project would construct two new tunnels and add a platform and station capacity in Penn Station. 

Closing existing tunnels without the creation of additional tracks would reduce system capacity by 75 percent, according to a Common Good report, which could cause paralyzing traffic jams and harm the regional economy.

“As you continue your work to develop the Trump Administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure package, we urge you to consider the urgent need for major investments in our nation’s rail and transit infrastructure,” the senators wrote to Chao. 

The letter also raises concern over Trump’s proposed federal budget, which would slash Department of Transportation discretionary programs by $2.4 billion.

Trump’s spending blueprint also would reduce federal support for Amtrak, eliminate the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program and zero out the New Starts capital grant program, which would threaten the Gateway project.

“The proposed cuts would derail important transportation projects all across the country including Gateway, and would have a disastrous impact on our regional and national economy,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Rather than slashing infrastructure investments, we should work together on a plan to provide the major increases in direct federal infrastructure spending that our country desperately needs.”

Trump, who has promised to repair U.S. roads, bridges and airports, has lamented about the dilapidated tunnels in New York before.

But many different infrastructure projects are expected to compete for a slice of the funding pie.

Including the Gateway tunnel project in Trump’s infrastructure plan, however, could attract support from Schumer and other Democrats.