NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Congressional lawmakers say a deal on a trillion-dollar spending bill is nearly complete, if they could only agree on funding for the Hudson River Rail Project.
The multi-billion dollar Gateway project, along several other issues, has become a major sticking point in the negotiations.
President Trump has threatened a veto if the $900 million payment for the project isn’t cut.
The project would create a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River which transportation advocates say is desperately needed to ease travel congestion.
As the tug of war over funding the rail project continue in Washington, the perils facing Northeast Corridor commuters were brought into stark relief again Friday morning when a century-old bridge malfunctioned, suspending train service for hours in and out of New York.
The Portal Bridge just outside Newark became stuck around 4:20 a.m. when workers couldn’t get it to realign after performing maintenance work. The bridge is a swing bridge that is opened periodically to allow boats to pass underneath.
One track reopened around 8 a.m., while a second was back in service about 45 minutes later. A power failure contributed to the problem, Amtrak board chairman Tony Coscia said at a meeting for the development corporation overseeing the rail project.
A new bridge is part of the first phase of the Gateway project, along with a new rail tunnel into New York. Local officials have been at loggerheads with the Trump administration over how to foot the estimated $13 billion bill for a project that’s critical for service throughout the Northeast Corridor.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told a House committee this week that Trump was actively seeking to kill the tunnel project unless the states commit more money. New York and New Jersey both are seeking low-cost federal loans for half the cost, and federal grants for the other half.
The estimated $1.5 billion bridge replacement project has finished the design and environmental permitting phase and is ready to start construction as soon as funding is available.
Its prospects took a hit recently, however, when the Federal Transit Administration downgraded its rating from medium-high to medium-low, which could make it more difficult to compete with other projects around the country seeking federal dollars.
The Amtrak-owned span carries about 450 trains each day to and from New York.
“You’re competing for a limited pool of money in a grant process,” interim Gateway Development Corp. chairman John Porcari said Friday. “We believe the downgrade was not justified, and that the additional information that we have been providing makes a strong case for a medium-high rating which will allow the bridge to compete well.”
The development corporation has eyed mid-2018 to start construction on the bridge, and mid- to late-2019 for the tunnel. Final environmental approval on the tunnel could come as early as the next few weeks.
Porcari said delaying the bridge start could cost up to $150,000 per day, and delaying the tunnel start could add up to $1.2 million per day to the tab.
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