President and Erstwhile F Train Rider Donald Trump Talks Transportation with the New York Times

The president called the Second Avenue subway the "tunnel to nowhere," which makes sense if you consider the nation's most densely-populated neighborhood "nowhere." | Image: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

If you haven’t seen it already, the New York Times published a partial transcript of an interview between President Trump and reporters Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush. They covered a variety of topics, but spent a good deal of time talking about infrastructure — and specifically transportation infrastructure in New York City.

While we’ve heard the president say he wants to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, and we’ve surmised that perhaps his experience as a New York City-based developer might lead him to favor investments here in the region, this is the most we’ve heard directly from the administration on the topic so far. True to character, his comments provide little clarity, but they do give some insight into who the administration is consulting with to make decisions on major infrastructure projects. Here are some excerpts:

The Second Avenue subway came up — kind of out of nowhere — when the president was asked about his $1 trillion infrastructure proposal:

HABERMAN: What would be the breakdown be?

TRUMP: On roads, on bridges, on many different things. And it’s also going to be — we have to refurbish to a large extent. You know, we can build new highways, which are much more expensive. And sometimes they’re the highways to hell. You know they’re called, like the Second Avenue subway, the tunnel to nowhere. Which, after spending 12 trillion, 12 billion dollars, they realize it now. But you know when they built the Second Avenue subway, you know they never knew where it was going. Did you know this? This was one of the great of all time. And then they ended up finishing it.

And later, when trying to re-focus the conversation on New York projects, Haberman and Thrush asked him specifically about both the Second Avenue subway and the Gateway rail tunnel project.

HABERMAN: You referenced the New York projects —

TRUMP: The tunnel to nowhere, I call it.

HABERMAN: Well that’s my question for you. Two of those projects, the Hudson rail tunnel and one is the Second Avenue subway, are two projects you’ve been hearing about for much of your developing career.

TRUMP: For much of my life.

HABERMAN: Right, and so same, we’re all New Yorkers at this table.

THRUSH: In your budget you either zeroed out or cut a lot. We reported —

TRUMP: We don’t want money being thrown out the window, as it has been for many years. Not just in Obama’s years. I mean for many years.

THRUSH: What do you say to New Yorker officials that think those are really vital projects? What do you say to them? Do you support them?

TRUMP: Well, I may support them, I’m going to look at them. So what I’m doing — is you know — I did great in real estate in New York. I know all the developers. I know all of the folks. I know the good ones and the bad ones. And I’m setting up a commission of very smart people that know how to spend money properly. That know how to build on time, on budget. And ideally, under time and under budget. I’m setting up a commission. It’s going to be headed by [the developer] Richard LeFrak and it’s going to be headed — they’re going to be co- — Steve Roth. R-O-T-H of Vornado. Two very talented, smart, tough people. And they are going to, along with me, put on a group of 20 people, 20 to 25 people on a commission. We’re going to run projects through them. And they will have great expertise in that room. We’ll have it from both coasts, and right down the middle. We’re going to have representatives from various parts of the country that are all are very, very successful in terms of infrastructure. From different fields, but always infrastructure. But everything is going to be run by them. One of the things — you probably saw what I said yesterday — did you see where I held up the deal?

The conversation then moved to subways (and then right over to airports and highways, because after all, this is America).

THRUSH: You’ve spent most of your career in New York. A, what do you think of the subway system in New York? Do you think it’s in good shape? And B, when’s the last time you were on the train in the city?

TRUMP: It’s been a long time. It’s been a long time. It has been. I know the subway system very well. I used to take it to Kew-Forest School, in Forest Hills, when I lived in Queens. And I’d take the subway to school. Seems a long time ago —

[Cross talk.]

TRUMP: I’d take it from Jamaica, 179th Street. Jamaica, right? To Forest Hills. I understand the subway very well. I used to ride between the cars.

HABERMAN: Did your parents tell you not to do that?

TRUMP: They weren’t thrilled when they heard that.

THRUSH: We’ll, you’re kind of doing that politically now, so —

TRUMP: [Unintelligible.] That could be the best statement —

[Laughter.]

TRUMP: No, they were not happy. I used to love to do that. Those were the old days.

THRUSH: But you think the infrastructure in New York is in pretty good shape? You’re a developer. You know that stuff.

TRUMP: I think it’s in poor shape. The highways are in poor shape.

HABERMAN: What about the airports?

TRUMP: I think the airports are a horror show. I’ve traveled the world, I know the world.

HABERMAN: And, well, you’ve traveled the country. So you saw all of these cities in the last year and a half, two years. Tell us what you thought, do worst, do best in terms of airport, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of what you saw.

TRUMP: When you look at the infrastructure in places like Iowa, in places like Tennessee and Alabama and places I won by massive —

[Cohn sneezes.]

TRUMP: God bless you. You O.K., Gary? That was a pretty tough one. I’ve got to make sure my man is all right.

[Laughter.]

[Cross talk.]

TRUMP: When you look at the infrastructure of some parts of our country, it’s really remarkably good. But you come back to New York and you look at the infrastructure of New York, you look at Van Wyck Expressway, you look at the medians, which, I would, you know, I’ve already got an order out — the aluminum medians — you’ve heard me talk about it.

HABERMAN: I’ve heard you talk about it, and I take those roads all the time, so —

TRUMP: Whoever the person is that owns that company is a genius salesman. That is the worst garbage. I think it bends by the heat, because not that many cars could possibly hit it. It’s the worst garbage. And I also think it’s dangerous because it’s a spear. And if you hit those things, they come flying apart. And if you’re driving, you’ve got yourself a problem.

It’s no small task to get Trump to focus on any one topic for more than a sentence or two, so hats off to Haberman and Thrush for pressing him on whether he will invest in the region’s transportation network.


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1 Comment on "President and Erstwhile F Train Rider Donald Trump Talks Transportation with the New York Times"

  1. The 2nd Avenue subway was first proposed in 1919 and its first phase was completed in 2017. That’s a 98-year Phase 1.

    The East Side Access project is only 14 years delayed – so far – and “only” about triple the original budget.

    So President Trump is spot on target when he says that maybe spending more money, isn’t the answer.

    Remember, Donald Trump is the man who built the Central Park Skating Rink in 6 months, under budget, after the City of New York failed to do it in three years. It’s not the money; it’s the management.

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