Cuomo’s Gateway Sales Pitch
– New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that President Trump was “receptive” to a new pitch he delivered for a constructing a new passenger rail tunnel connecting Manhattan and northern New Jersey that would bid the project internationally.
“He said, ‘I am receptive. I am looking for a way to move forward,’” Cuomo told reporters in New York after meeting privately with Trump earlier in the day for lunch at the White House.
Trump officially didn’t budge from his non-support for federal assistance in constructing the new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
But the president initiated the request for the luncheon meeting after Cuomo last month sent Trump a five-minute video showing the leaking walls and interior deterioration of the existing 108-year-old tunnel.
“If the president wasn’t interested and wasn’t moved by the video, why have the meeting?” Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, asked reporters.
The tunnel is owned by Amtrak and not by New York, Cuomo emphasized in the video and during his new conference Wednesday.
“The state doesn’t own it,” Cuomo told reporters. “The state doesn’t run a train that goes through it.”
Amtrak and NJ Transit are the tunnel’s two main users.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao joined Trump at the lunchtime meeting.
“The group discussed a number of important topics, focusing on infrastructure,” the White House said in a statement afterward. “The president cares deeply for his home state of New York and always appreWASHINGTON
ciates the opportunity to engage with the governor on issues important to the state and region.”
Cuomo said he discussed how New York successfully replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge further north on the Hudson River using a similar design-build bidding process that rewarded the contractor for finishing the project ahead of schedule.
He also suggested to Trump that the federal government and the states of New York and New Jersey form a three-member board to oversee the tunnel project. They also discussed the redesign of LaGuardia Airport and possible ways to extend the length of the runway.
The new tunnel is estimated to cost $11.1 billion with the rehabilitation of the existing two tubes costing another $1.6 billion after the new tunnel is put into service.
Cuomo, however, said the actual cost won’t be known until the project is put out to bid, noting there are some European companies that are using new boring technology.
New York and New Jersey officials already have been waiting 29 months for final federal approval of an environmental impact statement for the proposed tunnel.
“We are nowhere right now,” Cuomo said. “There is no clock ticking because there is no clock.”
Cuomo said New York is prepared to pay $3.25 billion as its maximum share of the overall cost. New Jersey would contribute a similar amount.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey along with Amtrak are current partners.
Chao earlier this year dismissed the financing plan by New York and New Jersey by saying their commitment to repay federal loan guarantees should not count as a local share. She has described the local commitment as only 5% of the overall cost of the new tunnel.
As a result, the tunnel project has received a rating of only “medium-low” from the Federal Transit Administration on its annual list of projects needing federal funding under the Capital Investment Program.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. who is one of the project’s biggest supporters in Congress, said Wednesday that Trump should be a backer of the new tunnel.
“The president knows about construction,” Blumenthal said. “He should recognize that if you don’t build it right, it simply will fall apart. And in this case, a tunnel falling apart is going to do crippling economic damage to the nation. Really it’s a national disgrace that it has been permitted to deteriorate as it has.”
Extended delays in constructing the tunnel for passengers using NJ Transit and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor increases the possibility that the existing tunnel could close before the new one is ready, according to experts.
The Gateway Program Development Corporation, a non-profit corporation representing Amtrak and the two states, on Tuesday marked the 108th anniversary of rail service through the 1910 tunnel built by the Pennsylvania Railroad to highlight the need for updating it.
The North River Tunnel, as it is called, has two rail tubes that are used daily by 200,000 Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers.
Cuomo’s video points out the two tubes were originally dropped onto the river bed encased in cast iron that is now covered by 20 feet of silt.
The New York civic advocacy group Common Good estimates the delay in constructing a new tunnelis adding $1.7 billion annually in lost opportunity costs and additional construction costs to the larger Gateway Development project, which includes a new Portal North Bridge in New Jersey.
New Jersey announced in July it was submitting a new application for financing $1.6 billion new Portal North Bridge over the Secaucus River that increases the local cost share at almost half of the overall cost and asks for an $811 million federal grant pay for the remainder.
New Jersey plans to use $600 million in state-appropriation backed bonds, capital funding from the NJ Transportation Trust Fund and other existing local sources.
The bond issue was authorized over the summer by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the NJ Transit Board of Directors.
In addition, the construction cost of the bridge has been reduced $160 million by consolidating proposed contracts to one.
The new bridge is expected to replace a moveable turntable-style bridge built in 1910.
The proposed replacement will be high-level fixed span over the Hackensack River that would be capable of supporting NJ Transit and Amtrak trains at speeds of up to 90 mph.
NJ Transit’s federal application includes a request for 25 two-level train cars that will increase rush hour passenger capacity by 10%.
The revised financing plan for the rail bridge is freeing up $284 million that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had planned to chip in. Overall the Port Authority has a $2.7 billion capital plan for the Gateway project.
“The president cares deeply for his home state of New York and always appreciates the opportunity to engage with the governor on issues important to the state and region,” according to a White House statement.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month sent Trump a five-minute video showing the leaking walls and interior deterioration of an existing tunnel.
President Trump officially didn’t budge from his non-support for federal assistance in constructing the new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River.