Federal Government Must Contribute Their Fair Share to Gateway

Federal Government Must Contribute Their Fair Share to Gateway

Testimony to Gateway Development Corporation

Dani Simons, VP Strategic Communications, Regional Plan Association

When Regional Plan Association testified back in December we urged the Federal government to step up and do their part to fund Gateway. We talked about the urgent need to build a new tunnel to allow for critical repairs for the existing one that is over 100 years old. I don’t think anyone in this room, or anyone who commutes to New Jersey or points further south by train with any frequency, has any questions about this need. These repairs can’t come soon enough for local commuters. And I won’t repeat the many reasons why the failure of the existing tunnel before a backup can be built would have an enormous negative impact on our regional and national economy. 

Instead I would like to address two narratives that have emerged since we last testified. 

First, there are some that are saying that the project is too expensive and must be scaled back. We think this is short-sighted and wrong-headed. Regional Plan Association looked at regional growth patterns and demand over the next generation as part of our recent Fourth Regional Plan. Our forecast predicts 150,000 new daily commuters from NJ to New York over the next generation, that’s not even counting the thousands more that would travel for other reasons. But the rail infrastructure to move these passengers is operating near or at capacity already. Gateway is designed to double rail capacity at this important choke point along the Northeast Corridor. 

This will enable continued economic growth, ensure access to good jobs for New Jersey residents, and relieve traffic congestion on our highways, essential for personal and freight mobility alike. We must be willing think bigger, and build projects that provide the capacity we need for the future, not just put a bandaid on what we have today. 

Second, there are some who are saying that the States need to step up before the Feds, and some who are going as far to say that the States should shoulder the full cost of this project. The truth is, the States already have significant skin in the game. New Jersey, for example, has put in over $300 million into the Portal Bridge project already. The Port Authority has put in or committed another $150 million. And as of late last year, the States each committed to their full share of the local match for the entire project. 

Now the Feds must step up. This means 50% grants and 50% financing. It’s a joke to conflate grants and financing. I own my apartment. I got a mortgage from a bank. It’s my responsibility to come up with the money to pay them back. Just like the States come up with the money to repay Federal loans. That’s the State match. The Federal match needs to be grants, cold hard cash, not more financing. 

We all know that time is money, and this is especially the case with capital projects. The longer the Feds delay, the more the project will cost and the likelier it becomes that the tunnel will fail without a backup. 

For both of these reasons and for the sake of our region’s and nation’s economy, we can’t afford to wait. 

RPA along with over a dozen civic, business and real estate groups have formed the Build Gateway Coalition and are launching a petition calling on the federal government to do their part to get Gateway moving. We will continue to add new members and increase our advocacy as needed to ensure that we raise public awareness and hold our elected leaders accountable for this very important project. The coalition and petition along with more information about the Gateway project are housed at BuildGateway.org