Code Name Mushroom? Lawsuit Claims Tunnel Data Hidden

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s administration possibly used the code name "mushroom" to hide information about Amtrak’s proposed Manhattan rail tunnel project, a lawsuit alleges.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, in a federal court complaint, says it is asking whether Trump is deliberately delaying the Gateway project, which includes plans for a second rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River to Manhattan, a replacement for a malfunctioning swing bridge in New Jersey and other improvements. Trump has declined to commit federal funding to Gateway, after New York and New Jersey officials said that former President Barack Obama had pledged 50 percent of the total $30 billion cost.

Though the U.S. Transportation Department’s decision on the tunnel portion was due in March, it has yet to be released. The New York City-based environmental group, which named the agency as the defendant, said transportation staffers hadn’t fulfilled its Freedom of Information Act request for related documents.

“The request also sought records identifiable by search terms including shorthand names,” the complaint states. “One such believed code name, ‘mushroom,’ may have been adopted specifically to stymie FOIA requests.”

A DOT representative declined to comment.

“I heard from sources that I will not reveal that they were referring to the Gateway project in emails as ‘mushroom,”’ Scott Slesinger, the NRDC’s senior adviser for governmental affairs, said by telephone. “So we threw that into our FOIA request.”

On Monday, a contingent of New Jersey elected officials including Governor Phil Murphy and U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez toured the century-old North River tunnel aboard an Amtrak train to survey ongoing deterioration. Amtrak says the tunnel is safe, though increasingly unreliable. Before the tunnel is closed for rehabilitation, the railroad says, a second link must be constructed to continue operations along the Northeast Corridor, the busiest U.S. passenger-train route.

Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the Gateway Project Development Corp., which would oversee construction, declined to comment on the lawsuit. He said, though, that the corporation is frustrated over the lack of federal action.

“We need a Record of Decision from USDOT now to keep the most urgent infrastructure project in the nation moving forward and finally replace a failing 108-year-old tunnel with reliable, 21st Century transportation for 200,000 riders a day," Sigmund said in an emailed statement.

The case is Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. v. U.S. Department of Transportation, 1:19-cv-00820, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

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