President Trump’s proposed budget cuts funding for the vast majority of federal departments and agencies, and although he vowed to update the nation’s infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Transportation wasn’t spared. In addition to dropping the TIGER grant program, which has raised more than $3 from local sources for each $1 invested, the president’s proposal would also cut funding for the New Starts program, which would endanger, among other projects, the Gateway Tunnel between New York and New Jersey. John Reitmeyer writes in NJ Spotlight:
The budget proposal marks an apparent reversal by the Republican president on the issue of infrastructure after he repeatedly stressed the need to rebuild the nation’s “roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, sea ports, and airports” while on the presidential campaign trail in 2016. The [Gateway] project had been earmarked as the most important in the country by the Obama administration, since it not only impacts New York and New Jersey but the economy of the entire East Coast.
In response to a possible freeze, warnings are already being sent by federal lawmakers, transportation advocates, and even Gov. Chris Christie — who canceled New Jersey’s last major trans-Hudson tunnel project in 2010 — that there will be a major effort launched to save the funding for Gateway and keep its construction on track.
There’s no logical explanation for cancelling the Gateway project, so perhaps this is merely a side effect of making budget cuts with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel. But we’re not so inclined to give this administration the benefit of the doubt.
To get a better explanation, just look at what Governor Chris Christie did in 2010, when he cancelled the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail tunnel project. The governor was applauded by small-government conservatives for ending the project, but didn’t seem to be prepared for the fallout. But nearly five years later, the Gateway project gave Christie a chance to redeem himself.
Trump appears to be using a similar approach, but his is stealthier than Christie’s. By cutting New Starts, transit projects across the nation will be cancelled, so Trump doesn’t have to cancel funding for the Gateway Tunnel specifically. Not only is it less personal this way, but it will also be more believable if his administration senses an opportunity to resurrect the project (and blame someone else for cancelling it) at some point down the road.
It’s ironic: Christie cancelled the ARC tunnel because he thought it would place too big a financial burden on New Jersey taxpayers. But now, if Trump — who Christie supported — pulls out of the Gateway project, New Jersey is going to be left with a bigger portion of the bill.
And also worth noting: if it hadn’t been cancelled, the Access to the Region’s Core project would be preparing to open a year from now.
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