Trump’s infrastructure plan must prioritize the Northeast Corridor
© Greg Nash

As President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE prepares to announce his long-awaited infrastructure proposal, thousands of businesses and millions of commuters are hoping that his plan will include the funds needed to modernize the ailing Northeast Corridor rail system. If he does not take this crucial step forward, President Trump will be undermining his own economic agenda and missing an opportunity to address one of the nation’s greatest infrastructure challenges.

The Northeast Corridor — which stretches from Washington, D.C., to Boston — is the most important rail system in the United States, carrying more than 820,000 riders every day. The ability to move efficiently, reliably and safely between these cities is critical not only to workers and businesses throughout the region, but also for the health of the nation’s entire economy.

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Research from the Northeast Corridor Commission found that losing the Northeast Corridor rail system for just a single day could cost the nation’s economy $100 million, which makes the current state of the corridor so alarming. The series of high-profile derailments and accidents along the line in recent years further underscores the urgent need to upgrade the rail line; in fact, more than $50 billion is needed over the next 20 years to bring the system into a state of good repair and accommodate future demands on the network.

That money is necessary for funding numerous projects throughout the corridor. A key tunnel linking New York City and New Jersey, for instance, is at risk of complete collapse because of residual damage from Hurricane Sandy. Amtrak has said that without major capital investment, part of the existing tunnel will need to close for repairs, increasing congestion in the busiest city in America.

Just to the south in New Jersey, the 107-year-old Portal Bridge — by volume the most-used rail bridge in the Western Hemisphere — accounts for hundreds of delays annually for commuters, resulting in lost economic productivity. A far more serious concern, however, is the flammability of the partially wooden bridge, which represents a constant danger for the thousands of commuters who cross it every day. But while these problems grow worse by the year, a funding source for the nearly $1 billion price tag to replace the bridge has yet to be identified.

The problem is not limited to New York. In Baltimore, for example, officials are struggling to identify how to pay for a complete replacement of the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, which was built in 1873. In Connecticut, the condition of the Connecticut River Bridge, which was built in 1907 and links New Haven and Boston, limits train speed to 45 miles-per-hour and slows down service across the region.

With numerous bridges, tunnels and tracks along the Northeast Corridor line suffering from the same issues, the state of the system’s infrastructure is reaching a crisis point that stands to damage the economy and jeopardize the safety of hundreds of thousands of commuters.

The federal government must get serious about bringing the Corridor’s infrastructure into the 21st century, and that should start with President Trump’s forthcoming plan — which must include significant resources to advance key projects up and down the line.

And while an injection of federal funding is a good start, President Trump and Congress must also look for long-term opportunities to partner on infrastructure projects with state and municipal governments whose many residents depend on a strong rail system to get to work each day.

President Trump has made modernizing America’s infrastructure a core theme of his economic agenda. But his plan can only support the long-term growth of the nation’s economy if it offers meaningful solutions for solving the country’s greatest infrastructure challenge — ensuring the Northeast Corridor is prepared to meet the economic demands of the 21st century.

Michael Friedberg is the Executive Director of the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor.