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Chao Testifies Trump Personally Working To Block Funding For Major NY-NJ Transit Project

by Countable | 3.7.18

UPDATE March 7, 2018: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao testified to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday that President Trump is personally intervening to block the funding of the Gateway Project -- a multi-tier project to upgrade the Hudson Tunnel and NY-NJ mass transit system.

$900 million in federal contribution was included in the omnibus spending bill that Congress will have to approve to fund the government in a matter of weeks. The Washington Post reports the president called Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) personally Friday to ask that it be removed.

Chao testified that the president's request is based on the belief that the states directly involved should cover more of the costs, which were proposed to be split 50-50 in a handshake agreement between state leaders and the previous administration.

Opponents maintain Trump's actions are retaliatory, part of an ongoing power struggle between the president and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Despite the president's efforts, at this stage in the formulation of the bill it may not be possible to remove the project's funding without unraveling the entire package, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, told the Post.

Countable's original post is below.


What’s the story?

Back in 2015 the Obama administration brokered a deal with a bipartisan group of state leaders from New York and New Jersey to split the costs of repairs and upgrades to the Hudson Tunnel portion of the mass transit system. The New York to New Jersey commuter route moves tens of thousands of people in and out of the city daily.

The plan would have split the costs of adding an additional tunnel and upgrading the single existing tunnel 50-50 between the federal government and state and local authorities, which is inconsistent with the current administration’s plans to have infrastructure projects largely funded by state and local governments. The administration sent a letter to New York and New Jersey officials late Friday referring to the 2015 agreement as "non-existent" reports NJ.com.

In the letter from Federal Transit Administrator (FTA) K. Jane Williams to New York’s Division of Budget, Williams referred to the project as an exclusively "local" one. Advocates for the federal significance of the NYC economy, however, point to the fact that the city accounts for 9% of the country’s entire gross domestic product.

Crain’s New York suggests that the revoking of the federal commitment to the 2015 agreement is part of the Trump administration’s plans to roll out a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan in 2018. By rolling in some funding commitment to the project as part of that plan, at a vast reduced percentage of federal contribution, the administration may be able to encourage Democratic support.

In Williams’ letter she references upcoming congressional discussions of the administration’s infrastructure plan, and promises to find "paths that would enable" the project. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who participated in the 2015 agreement, remains optimistic about federal funding given that President Trump hails from NYC:

"We are confident that, as the White House advances an infrastructure proposal this year, federal funding for the most important transportation project in the United States will be addressed."

What do you think?

Should the administration follow through on the 2015 agreement or not? Should improving infrastructure in the Northeast corridor be a federal priority, given the region’s contribution to the national economy? What percentage of major infrastructure project costs should state and local authorities be responsible for?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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