Senate Flip Buoys NJ-NY Tunnel Backers Who Hope Schumer Delivers

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The elevation of New York Senator Chuck Schumer to majority leader of the U.S. Senate has backers of the proposed Gateway rail tunnel to link New York and New Jersey hoping it’s back on track.

Schumer has long been a supporter of the $11 billion project, which has languished amid feuding between President Donald Trump and Democratic governors in the two states.

Schumer said the tunnel is “a top transportation priority for New York” during a virtual meeting with President-elect Joe Biden’s Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg on Dec. 30.

“We must get that going for the whole Northeast and I will be talking to the mayor on that as well,” Schumer said.

The victory of a pair of Democrats in runoff elections to represent Georgia in the Senate this week means Schumer, the Democratic leader of the chamber, will take over control of its agenda from current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Democrats will formally have the majority once Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president on Jan. 20 and the elections of incoming Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia are certified and they are sworn in.

The tunnel would carry Amtrak and New Jersey Transit commuter trains under the Hudson River as part of the Gateway Program. Amtrak says it will allow for twice as many trains to run under the river, including those that are part of its Northeast Corridor service that connects Boston, New York and Washington.

Biden, whose commuting between Delaware and Washington aboard Amtrak as a senator became part of his biography, is likely to put his weight behind the new tunnel.

Amtrak Chief Executive Bill Flynn said in a statement: “Amtrak looks forward to working with President-elect Biden and the new Congress to expand service nationwide and improve reliability, safety and performance through our critical infrastructure and fleet projects.”

Jeff Davis, a senior fellow with the Eno Center for Transportation, said the Trump administration has blocked federal funding that has been previously approved by Congress.

“Democrats taking the Senate means that it is much less likely that Budget Control Act caps on annual appropriations, which under current law expire in a few months, will be renewed,” Davis continued. “And no more caps on appropriations would make it much more likely that the appropriations committees would be able to find $50 million plus per year for ten years to pay for the tunnel project, once a grant agreement is negotiated and signed.”

Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for Gateway Program Development Corp., said in an email: “President-elect Biden has prioritized infrastructure and the Hudson Tunnel project specifically, and we look forward to working with his administration and Congress to make the project a reality.”

Representatives of Schumer and Biden didn’t respond to a request for comment on the project. But Biden pledged on his campaign website to spark “the second great railroad revolution.”

Greg Regan, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, predicted there would be a sea-change in infrastructure debates with Democratic control of Washington.

“One of the most frustrating things about the last four years is there’s been a lot of talk about building stuff, infrastructure and going big, and when it came to the actual work of moving big infrastructure projects, Gateway is certainly one of them, the DOT stymied, stunted or ignored them,” he said.

Amtrak and New Jersey Transit’s sole link between New Jersey and New York is currently a tunnel that is more than a century old and was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

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