Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hudson River Rail Tunnel Project Chugging Along With A Schumer Boost

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a press conference for a new Hudson River rail tunne
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a press conference in favor
of a new Hudson River rail tunnel
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took the lead on the new Hudson tunnel project yesterday, proposing that a new entity, the Gateway Development Corporation, manage the construction of two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River.

Officials from Amtrak and US Department of Transportation (USDOT) have endorsed the idea as a means to access different federal funds available.

While Governor Chris Christie has recently supported the project despite past reluctance, Governor Cuomo of New York remains reluctant to pony up the cash.

Even though this has been a problem for a while, it’s gotten worse in recent years. Given that the tunnels are 105 years old, this isn’t surprising.

Have corporations worked for New York transportation projects before?

The question regarding a new entity created solely to build a tunnel is how long will it last?

For 40 years, Robert Moses controlled an independent fiefdom of unaccountable corporations in New York. Some entities Moses created to build highways were supposed to be temporary until the debt incurred from construction was paid off by tools. But he found a way to never pay off the debt by diverting the money elsewhere and keeping the corporations alive.

Moses was no fan of public transportation and most of his projects came at their expense.

Hopefully history won’t repeat itself.

What’s the deal with Schumer and the Senate?

While Schumer sits on the Senate Banking Committee which has jurisdiction over mass transit, he’s never championed the issue.

He’s set to become the new Senate Democratic Leader in 2017, following the retirement of Harry Reid (D-Nev.). If the Democrats take back the Senate, he’d be Majority Leader. If not, he’d be Minority Leader.

As Democratic Leader, Reid blocked nuclear waste from being dumped in Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a site sacred to some Native Americans. It was designated a site for waste throughout the country years ago but Reid ended such notions.

In a similar vein, Schumer’s pet projects will likely see a boost. It was once said that the most dangerous place in Washington was between Chuck Schumer and a camera. But given the deficit in the federal Highway Trust Fund as well as New Jersey’s trust fund, even with Schumer’s leadership, this could take years.

Why is building the tunnel complicated?

The problem is that like the Freedom Tower’s construction, there are too many entities involved: the Governor of New York, the Governor of New Jersey, NJ Transit, the Mayor of New York, Port Authority, Congress, Amtrak, the president and his administration, and any private firms hired.

A map of the Gateway Project to build two new tunnels from New Jersey to New York as designed by Amtrak.
A map of the Gateway Project to build two new tunnels from New Jersey to
New York as designed by Amtrak.
The Gateway project designed by Amtrak would cost around $15 billion. According to Amtrak, 80 percent of the cost would be covered by the federal government with 20 percent would come from the two states.

What’s with the deal with Schumer and New York?

The state of New York is bigger than postcards would have you believe. There’s a massive disconnect between New York City, its suburbs, and the rest of New York, which can be very rural or the poster child for post-industrial problems.

And Schumer, despite being a stereotypical Brooklynite, has worked hard at courting upstate. He’s spent time at understanding their problems, perhaps at the expense of the population centered two hours from Times Square.

How does presidential politics affect the Hudson River rail tunnel?

The tunnel is more likely to be built if a Democrat is elected president than a Republican. With Christie’s modest poll numbers, he’s unlikely to win the nomination, barring a game change. He could be an interesting VP or Attorney General pick, so he’d still be out earlier than normal. If he gets nothing and remains governor, he might go along with a deal if it looks good.

All the Democrats running presumably support the tunnel.