U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) met with U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary-designate Elaine Chao on Jan. 18 to discuss infrastructure priorities, specifically, the Gateway Program.
Sen. Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate’s mass transit subcommittee, said the meeting impressed upon Secretary Chao, who led the U.S. Labor Department under President George W. Bush, that advancing the Gateway project to replace the aging Hudson River rail tunnels must be the nation’s top transportation infrastructure priority in the Trump Administration.
“Gateway is one of the largest and most complex transportation projects in the country. Failure to complete the project in a timely manner would be a disaster for businesses and commuters in our region and to the nation’s economy. I don’t believe we can be successful in this effort without the support of the Department of Transportation,” Sen. Menendez said.
The Obama Administration has made Gateway a priority, placing the project on the Presidential Dashboard to expedite permitting and environmental reviews. USDOT is also a party to the Gateway Development Corporation (GDC), created to oversee the project and controls discretionary funds that will be critical to fulfilling the federal funding obligation to complete the project, notably from the New Starts program. The Hudson tunnels and century-old Portal Bridge are already in the New Starts pipeline for funding.
Sen. Menendez’s Office says the Northeast Corridor accounts for $3.6 trillion in economic activity; the cost of a disruption in rail service through the Hudson tunnels, which were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy and nearing their end of life, would cost an estimated $100 million a day.
“It’s vital that we have a new set of Hudson tunnels complete before we have to repair the existing ones. If we lost just one tunnel, we’d go from 24 trains an hour down to six to accommodate two-direction traffic,” said Sen. Menendez.
During the meeting, the senator also stressed the need for a robust infrastructure investment plan—that includes actual funding, not just tax breaks and financing gimmicks—to address the nation’s $90 billion state-of-good-repair backlog, while creating a 21st Century transportation system.