RPA Testimony at the July 2018 GDC Board Meeting Requesting Federal Action

Good morning, my name is Nat Bottigheimer, and I am the New Jersey Director of the Regional Plan Association.

 

The RPA strongly supports the Portal Bridge and Hudson River Tunnel projects, and I am here today on the Association’s behalf to urge the Federal government to move these vital projects forward.

 

The present Portal Bridge and Hudson Tunnels serve around 200,000 daily passengers, and the region they serve has been estimated to support 10% of the nation’s GDP. Replacement of these facilities is critical to supporting already established economic activity, and to the potential for regional and national economies to grow into the future.  

 

At the GDC’s last meeting, the RPA commended Governor Phil Murphy, along with NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett and the NJ Transit Board of Directors, for the commitment they made to local funding for the Portal Bridge project.

 

Today, the RPA asks that the Federal government take the next critical steps needed to make the Gateway program a reality. This means moving on Federal approvals and funding the Federal share of this nationally significant program.

 

First, with recent local funding commitments in place and project modifications that reduce overall project costs, 100 percent of the required local funding commitment is in place for the Portal Bridge replacement project. In recognition of this accomplishment, the FTA should return the project to a medium-high rating in the Capital Investment Grant Core Capacity grant program, a move that would make the project eligible for federal grants necessary to move the project forward.

 

Second, we ask the FTA Administrator to act promptly on the project’s application for a Record of Decision. The time elapsed since the Gateway Project’s Final EIS was submitted, combined with published statements in a recent Politico article acknowledging US DOT staff could be “slow-walking” the project, raise uncomfortable questions about agency management of the environmental review process. Prompt issuance of a Record of Decision would do much to dispel our doubts.

 

Third, for the Hudson Tunnels as for the Portal Bridge, we cannot be more emphatic about the need for the federal government to step up to meet its funding obligation. The region’s state and local funders have put their share of money on the table. Recent comments from the FTA Administrator equating Federal loans with Federal grants are a poor joke whose goal seems to be to reduce or evade the Federal government’s project funding responsibility. Federal loans help state and local governments marshal local funds needed, but Federal loans can never substitute for Federal grants.

 

Finally, we continue to wait for Federal action on the Hudson Tunnel’s environmental documents. These materials were submitted in time for the Administration’s own March 31, 2018 deadline for action & continue to languish – without explanation or response to inquiry – threatening the ability of the project to be included in the coming round of transit New Start projects. Time is money, and with a capital project such as this one, the longer the Federal government delays, the more the project will cost and the likelier it becomes that the tunnel will fail without a backup – potentially landing a greater burden on the Federal government than the costs being asked of it now.