Northeast Corridor tunnel backers feel shorted by Trump plan

NEWARK, N.J. — Proponents of a $13 billion project to build a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey seen as critical for the future of the nation's busiest rail corridor are panning President Donald Trump's infrastructure proposal.

The budget released by the White House on Monday envisions $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next 10 years; however, only $200 billion would be direct federal spending aimed at leveraging state and local dollars.

State and local governments would be able to use the federal money for up to 20 percent of their project's cost, which is vastly different from the model state and local officials supporting the tunnel project have relied upon.

Their estimates have been based on an agreement reached with President Barack Obama for the states and federal government to split the cost for the larger rail project called Gateway.

In a letter to New York and New Jersey officials in late December, the deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration called that agreement "non-existent."

Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said Monday's budget proposal "would put unsustainable burdens on our local government and lead to Trump tolls all over the country," referring to the plan's proposal to sell some federally owned roads.

John Porcari, a former federal Department of Transportation official who is interim head of the Gateway Development Corp., the tunnel project's overseer, said more federal commitment is needed.

"The Gateway Program remains the most urgent infrastructure program in America and a project of national significance for which there is not a minute to lose," Porcari said. "In order for programs across the country like Gateway to be successful, we must substantially increase direct federal investment in infrastructure."

The existing tunnel is more than 100 years old and suffered saltwater damage during 2012's Superstorm Sandy. Amtrak, which owns the tunnel, has said one or both of the tubes — one inbound to Penn Station, one outbound — could fail in the next 10 to 15 years.

Transportation experts have estimated that taking one of the tubes out of service would reduce peak-period trains from 24 per hour to six, leading to crippling delays along the Northeast Corridor stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C.

Republican New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance referenced the tunnel project's importance to the nation as well as the region.

"Any serious national infrastructure plan must include this link for $3 trillion in annual economic output and 20 percent of the nation's gross domestic product," Lance said.

New Jersey and New York have committed a combined $5.5 billion, half of the estimated cost of constructing the new tunnel. The remainder of the first phase involves replacing a century-old swing bridge in northern New Jersey that occasionally gets stuck in an open position and other improvements.

New Jersey plans to pay for its share by raising fares on cross-Hudson River rail trips, while New York plans to finance its portion through an annual appropriation.

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