Cuomo Pitched Trump About Scaled-Back Gateway Project Approach

(Bloomberg) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed seeking bids from private companies as part of a plan to redraw the controversial Gateway Tunnel project that he presented to President Donald Trump during lunch Wednesday at the White House.

Cuomo described the meeting as positive and said afterward during a press conference at his Manhattan offices that Trump was receptive to his proposal, which would get a cost estimate for tunnel construction that he said both he and the president would trust.

The governor said he proposed rethinking the $30 billion project, which includes a comprehensive overhaul with new tracks, new train station construction and other improvements, to focus on the $13 billion rail tunnels first. He said he would restructure the Gateway Program Development Corp., which currently oversees planning, to remove Amtrak and replace it with a different federal government representative that would work alongside New York and New Jersey.

“I’m not going to sign a check until I know what the amount of the check is,” Cuomo said. “I’m not going to do it on an Amtrak estimate.”

Cost estimates were jointly developed by Amtrak, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and NJ Transit, and Amtrak looks forward to refining them as engineering, design and engagement with the private sector advances, Stephen Gardner, Amtrak chief commercial officer, said in a statement.

Amtrak Response

Amtrak supports the federal government rejoining the Gateway Program Development Corp. but with Amtrak and the other current members, Gardner said.

“As owner and steward of the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak will always remain involved in all aspects of Gateway for the benefit of the region and the nation,” he said.

Dan Bryan, a spokesman for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, declined to comment on Cuomo’s proposal.

Trump and Cuomo, though political rivals, share a home state, and infrastructure development is one of the few issues where Trump may find newly empowered House Democrats willing to work with him. The two were joined at lunch by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, said in an email. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also was at the meeting, Cuomo said.

Infrastructure Focus

“The group discussed a number of important topics, focusing on infrastructure,” Gidley said. “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.”

Richard Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, accompanied Cuomo to the White House and joined the governor at the news conference.

Cuomo said he sent a video to Trump last month showing corrosion and damage to the current rail tunnel linking New York and New Jersey and spoke to the president afterward to make the case for fully funding the Gateway project. The $13 billion tunnel under the Hudson River, for which former President Barack Obama’s administration agreed to provide half the money, has been in financial limbo for two years after Trump balked at fulfilling that promise.

Cuomo, former New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie and other officials announced in 2015 that the two states and Obama struck a deal to split the costs for the Gateway tunnel project 50-50. The Trump administration has denied any such deal exists.

Gateway Fight

The fight over Gateway is part of a broader disagreement about the role of the federal government in funding infrastructure projects. The Trump administration wants New York and New Jersey to provide more money, and local officials insist they don’t have the resources to complete the project without more federal help.

“The president is concerned about the viability of this project and the fact that New York and New Jersey have no skin in the game,” Chao said at a House committee hearing in March.

Trump ran for president promising to invest in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, but he has been unable to pass major legislation on that issue. Democrats are set to take control of the House in January, and have said they want to boost federal spending on infrastructure beyond Trump’s proposal. Cuomo has said the Gateway project should be a top candidate for federal dollars.

The current tunnel, which carries 820,000 daily commuters and East Coast passengers between Washington and Boston, is endangered by age and corrosion from Hurricane Sandy. Its replacement and repair “should not be a partisan issue,” Cuomo wrote this week in a letter to the state’s Democratic delegation.

The tunnel provides the only New York City access for NJ Transit commuter trains, and Amtrak has said it has less than 20 years of remaining serviceable life. It’s key to Amtrak’s high-speed Boston-to-Washington Northeast Corridor route, serving an area that generates 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

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