Jersey Dems reignite calls for Gateway project to move ahead

Under a New Jersey Turnpike Bridge in Secaucus, officials and stakeholders gathered to talk up the Gateway Tunnel project.

People like Jerry Zaro, New Jersey’s Trustee at the Gateway Development Corporation.

“This is no longer an optional matter. This tunnel must be built. It was built 110 years ago when Teddy Roosevelt was president, or for context, when the Titanic was under construction,” Zaro said.

The plan is to replace the existing two tubes with two new ones and then rehab the old ones. The total cost is $13 billion by the most recent estimate, and it’s estimated to take eight years.

Gov. Phil Murphy says the state will do its part.

“Today we are all here to speak with one clear voice. New Jersey is ready to get to work on America’s next great infrastructure project. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but I know New York is as well. We are ready for the Trump administration to step up to the plate with us. We are ready to do Gateway together,” Murphy said.

President Donald Trump once spoke about a trillion dollar infrastructure plan, but he has been cool to Gateway. His transportation secretary Elaine Chao said it’s more a local project than a national one.

Looming behind Tuesday’s gathering, the Portal North Bridge, which is first in line to be replaced as part of Gateway.

“When this bridge gets stuck, as it all too often does, thousands of commuters get stuck and commerce along the entire Northeast Corridor gets stuck with them. This is certainly about New Jersey and New York, but it’s about so much more than that. This little bridge and this Gateway project impact about 20 percent of our nation’s GDP,” Murphy said.

“A shutdown of the corridor, which may very well be a reality without Gateway, would cost $100 million per day. It would be a disaster for our workers, for our economy and our air quality,” Sen. Bob Menendez said.

“I understand just how important maintaining our infrastructure is, especially for northern New Jerseyans. This is our lifeblood we’re talking about here,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell.

People once assumed that Trump, being a New Yorker, would support Gateway.

“I cannot for the life of me, a guy from New York, that doesn’t see the importance of this bridge and these tunnels,” said Rep. Albio Sires.

“Don’t go in those tunnels when they’re lit. Be glad you go through them and they’re dark because if you saw them lit you might not go back in them in the dark,” said Rep. Donald Payne.

Some say Trump is using the tunnel project as a wedge against Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

“I’m not in Washington, but we hear that, or we surmise, that maybe the president wants leverage over the region for support for his wall,” said Zaro.

Others theorize it may have to do with New York as a bastion of Trump-bashing, from the New York Times, to the major networks, to the two governors themselves.

“This should be beyond politics, and the evidence for me is the universal — I believe both New York and New Jersey — universal, bipartisan support for this project. You can’t find a Republican or a Democrat who are opposed to this. It’s so obvious,” said Murphy.

There was a chorus beseeching the federal government for funding for the Gateway Project. What’s missing is a fuller understanding of why the Trump administration isn’t listening.