Chao: Public campaign trying to 'bully' DOT into funding Gateway project

Chao: Public campaign trying to 'bully' DOT into funding Gateway project
© Greg Nash

Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Kathy Griffin offers her guesses on anti-Trump op-ed author A fuel-economy change that protect freedom and saves lives MORE on Wednesday said a public campaign is being waged to bully her department into funding a multibillion-dollar rail project the Trump administration has backed away from in recent months.

“A campaign is being waged in the public arena to bully the department to pressure the federal government to fund these projects,” Chao told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing. 

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Chao said the administration is not looking for an argument over the Gateway project, which seeks to rebuild passenger rail connections under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.

The project has been a sticking point in negotiations for an upcoming omnibus spending bill. The White House last week threatened to veto the legislation if it includes funding for Gateway, while the Department of Transportation said it opposes financing the project in the spending bill.

Lawmakers from New York and New Jersey in the last week have pressed Chao about Gateway as she testifies on Capitol Hill about the Trump administration’s infrastructure proposal. The secretary has argued the two states should put up more money for the project, which New York and New Jersey are seeking to fund using government loans like Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing.

Chao, who has maintained there is no documentation or agreement between the states and the federal government over the project, on Wednesday refused to commit to Gateway when pressed by Blumenthal.

“I can’t commit to something I don’t know. They did not come in with a realistic financing plan,” Chao told Blumenthal, referring to the states.

Lawmakers from the two states, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), in 2015 announced they had reached an agreement with the Obama administration for the federal government to fund half of Gateway. 

But the Trump administration has taken a different approach, withdrawing from the program’s board last summer. And the Federal Transit Administration in a December letter denied the presence of an agreement for the government to split the cost with New York and New Jersey.

“These projects are unusual in their unwillingness to follow the process like other states,” Chao said Wednesday.