Saturday, August 15, 2015

Schumer's Ticket To Ride

He may be absolutely wrong on Iran, but when it comes to mass transit, Charles Schumer is all right by me. 
This past Tuesday, New York's senior U.S. Senator proposed a new public authority to get the Gateway tunnel project under the Hudson River going.  Amtrak proposed this tunnel in 2011, shortly after New Jersey governor Chris Christie canceled the Access to the Region's Core tunnel, but congressional disinterest in passenger rail and the inability of Christie and New York governor Andrew Cuomo to come up with a plan to get Gateway built while the existing rail tunnels deteriorate have left the project as just an idea that no one wants to pay for.
Schumer has an idea to pay for it. He is proposing a new Gateway Development Corporation that would be formed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the two state governments and Amtrak in order to facilitate the direction of federal funds to the project, and so could get money from different federal infrastructure programs.
"Amtrak can’t access federal mass transit funding," Schumer explained.  "The Port Authority and regional Transit Agencies can’t access federal railroad dollars the way Amtrak can.  We’ll only get Gateway done by adding up several pieces of financing, with an eye toward getting the maximum amount possible from the federal government."
Jillian Jorgensen of the New York Observer reported that Schumer's proposal would be part of a bigger transportation bill that would include capital funding for Amtrak, and that includes, according to Jorgensen's report, a revenue proposal that would involve getting American companies with cash reserves in foreign countries to return to the money to the U.S. at a lower tax rate.  The entire project would cost up to $25 billion. 
Christie has had no immediate reaction to Schumer's proposal.  Cuomo has refused to discuss loans from the federal government for the tunnel and wants Washington to pay for he whole darn project, but he commended Schumer for offering a constructive approach to the issue.
I, for one, hope that Schumer is true to his word about not attempting to lobby any Senate Democrats to vote with him on the Iran deal and instead spends his energies on this proposal.  Because, as long as Amtrak and NJ Transit rely on tunnels dating back to the Wilson administration and the problems with these tunnels in turn cause backups in vehicular tunnels and affect buses - largely because commuters are looking for a way other than the train to get to Manhattan - the difficulties of access  to New York City from the Garden State are only going to get exponentially worse.  

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