Reps. Mikie Sherrill and Albio Sires are continuing their push to hit the gas on the long-delayed “Gateway” tunnel project.
Gateway, the proposed rail tunnel under the Hudson River, would allow the existing pathways to be closed to repair damage sustained in 2012 from Hurricane Sandy. Sherrill praised Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the heels of testimony Buttigieg gave to a House committee where he committed to moving forward on the long-delayed project Sherrill described as “America’s most urgent infrastructure project.”
The comments previewed President Joe Biden $2 trillion infrastructure plan to take place over eight years is expected to include monies for the Gateway project. The plan would include 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, and the elimination of lead pipes and service lines from the nation’s water supplies among other projects.
President Biden will promote the program as creating millions of jobs in the short run, strengthen American competitiveness in the long run, accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to new, cleaner energy sources, and would help promote racial equity in the economy.
Responding to a query from Sires during a House Transportation Committee focused on the new administration’s transportation infrastructure priorities March 25, Buttigieg stated “I share your sense of urgency with Gateway and related projects.” The Democratic lawmaker who represents New Jersey’s 8th district stressed the Gateway project’s importance to the Garden State and urged the Biden administration to partner with New Jersey, New York and the Port Authority to complete the work.
“This is a regional issue but one of national significance because if there was a failure in one of those tunnels, the entire U.S. economy would feel it,” Buttigieg added.
“It’s not just crucial to New Jersey and New York, but to the economy of the entire country” Sherrill, a Democrat representing the 11th district, said in a March 26 press statement. “I’m thrilled after four years of obstruction from the last administration, Secretary Buttigieg and the Biden administration are committed to working to complete the nation’s most important infrastructure project.”
Northeast Corridor Affected
Sires told Buttigieg at the hearing that the two existing commuter tunnels from New Jersey to New York are over a century old and during Sandy, a lot of saltwater got into the tunnels.
“I’m concerned that if we don’t address this issue, it’s going to be catastrophic. This corridor serves a region that is home to 17% of the U.S. population and 97 Fortune 500 company headquarters (and) contributes 20% of the national GDP,” Sires said.
Sherrill noted the century-old Hudson River tunnel connects 200,000 commuters every day from New Jersey and New York with Amtrak using it to connect 20 train routes across the country.
“The Gateway Tunnel project would modernize and improve the northeast corridor system and minimize the risk of a potentially catastrophic failure that would impact the entire country,” Sherrill said.
Menendez, Booker Push
The emphasis on Amtrak coincided with Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker joining 12 other senators on March 25 in urging President Biden to support at least $55 billion in capital investment for the Northeast Corridor (NEC).
The federal lawmakers, all of whom represent states along the NEC, sent a letter to the White House seeking at least $55 billion over 10 years for passenger rail infrastructure to repair the Northeast Corridor rail network and to expand Amtrak passenger service nationwide. The main line of the Northeast Corridor runs 457 miles from Washington, D.C. to Boston.
“As we begin the hard work of building back better from the (coronavirus) pandemic, we agree that investing in our nation’s infrastructure should be a top priority of the federal government. Passenger rail, including the service operated by Amtrak, is a prime candidate for infrastructure investment,” the senators wrote.
Time to Expand Amtrak
Additionally, Menendez, Booker and the other senators urged the White House to offer “robust support” for the national network of passenger rail service through Amtrak.”
The senators’ letter framed increased passenger rail funding as a boon to the administration’s goals on numerous fronts, including climate improvement. Calling a national rail network “critical,” they said it connects large cities to one another and to smaller communities.
“It unlocks economic opportunity, shortens commutes, and provides access to jobs, city centers, and international airports. It also helps meet climate goals: according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Amtrak is 47 percent more energy efficient than traveling by car and 33 percent more energy efficient than domestic air travel,” wrote the Senators.
The Federal Railroad Administration has crafted a long-term plan “to bring the NEC into a state of good repair” and expand passenger service, “but lacks the resources to execute this plan,” according to Menendez and Booker. As a result, they said, Amtrak and other rail carriers on the NEC “are trying to deploy a long-term infrastructure plan with a one-year budget outlook that is subject to ever-shifting political priorities.”