New Jersey lawmakers renew call for feds to fund Gateway Tunnel

Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Steve Gardner played tour guide for wide-eyed Jersey political VIPs on a trip through the more than a century-old train tunnel under the Hudson River. He pointed out the 12,000-volt electrical cables and the pitted concrete walls that sustained serious saltwater erosion damage during Superstorm Sandy.

“The water came in and deposited saltwater and remained are the salts and chlorides, which stayed and got into the concrete structure and with the presence of water form a corrosive, acidic compound that’s eating away at all the steel and concrete elements inside the structure,” Gardner said.

Some 200,000 commuters travel this route daily, so Amtrak can only do two hours of maintenance per night on a literally crumbling tunnel wall.

“It chips and can fall off,” said Gardner. “It can create a problem where you’ve got concrete near the track structure and we have to stop our trains.”

Stop to pick up the debris, causing a cascade of train delays. Compacted stone along the tracks blocks proper drainage making the tunnel more flood-prone. The proposed $13 billion Gateway Project would build a new tunnel and then rehab the old tubes. It’s a race against the clock, Amtrak Chair Tony Coscia said.

“Another significant event like Superstorm Sandy could cause serious issues to happen to the tunnel. It would definitely jeopardize our ability to operate it every day,” he said.

Gov. Phil Murphy joined officials and members of Congress after the tour to underscore New Jersey’s commitment to pony up — along with New York and the Port Authority — their $7 billion share of project costs. The Trump administration, in a fit of political pique, critics claim, has not agreed to federal Gateway funding, or even to give the project high priority.

“There’s no more reason for the federal Department of Transportation or for the administration to delay this project, to not give it its highest rating, which it deserves. Because from my perspective, we are sitting on a transportation ticking time bomb and we do not have the luxury of waiting,” Sen. Bob Menendez said.

“The problem we have right now is we now have a president who is not only not helping the project, but he’s actually doing things to hurt and undermine our progress. So this is sad because this is not a partisan issue,” Sen. Cory Booker said.

“We’ve stepped up for our share of this. We need, again, desperately need the federal government to step up on its side,” Murphy said.

Twenty percent of America’s gross domestic product depends on the bottleneck along the Northeast Corridor. Moody’s reported last week that completing the Gateway Project would lower the chances of regional economic disruption but that it hinges on federal commitment. Freshman Congressman Tom Malinowski, who’s on the House Transportation Committee, said there’s a new majority in D.C. now.

“Democrats, and the New Jersey delegation, is a huge force within the Democratic caucus. We will be writing the spending bills. We will be writing the transportation bills this year. We’ve just seen what a united Democratic caucus in the House can do in terms of leverage with the White House,” said Malinowski.

The new Democratic majority hopes that it can wield some leverage with the Trump administration, which is currently more focused on building walls than tunnels.