BUDD: The Northeast’s Costly Tunnel Vision (Wall Street Journal)

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Washington, March 8, 2018 | comments

Published by: The Wall Street Journal
By: Congressman Ted Budd (R-NC)
Read full oped here.
 
Last week President Trump urged House Speaker Paul Ryan to deny federal funding for the Gateway Program, a proposed rail upgrade between New York City and Newark, N.J. The amendment I wrote to defund Gateway failed to pass the House in September despite bipartisan support, but the president is absolutely right to resume the effort. The project should not receive another dime of federal funding.
 
Gateway has all the usual trappings of a rail-infrastructure boondoggle. Cost estimates have risen from $13.5 billion in 2011 to $29.5 billion. Implementation will be overseen by Amtrak, which manages to lose millions selling food to its own passengers along with countless other inefficiencies.
 
The project would also be subject to the enormous upward cost pressures of building infrastructure in New York City, home of the most expensive mile of subway track in the world. Gateway is not primarily a Metropolitan Transportation Authority project, but it would still face the same regulatory and wage factors that make New York’s rail projects cost as much as seven times the price of similar works in comparable cities.
 
For federal taxpayers, the shifty details of Gateway’s history add insult to the program’s injurious costs. In 2012 New Jersey’s then- Gov. Chris Christie canceled a primarily state-funded version of the rail upgrade because it would have cost residents too much money. Mr. Christie took the estimated $3 billion in fees collected to finance the project and diverted them into the state highway trust fund—a bit of budgetary sleight-of-hand that helped him avoid raising New Jersey’s gasoline tax before his 2013 re-election bid.
 
Gateway’s local proponents extol its potential to spur growth but are unwilling to front the cash for the project themselves. The Northeast Corridor Commission estimates that the tunnel upgrade will help ensure $36.5 billion a year of economic activity continues uninterrupted. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has even suggested that a recession is virtually guaranteed if Gateway is not completed.
 
Consider this logic: The project is crucial and its economic impact is a slam-dunk, but there’s no way for two wealthy states and major municipalities to produce the funds to pay for it?
 
Maybe this is a project of national importance that ought to be funded, but officials in New York and New Jersey don’t act as if it is when their own taxpayers are on the hook for any cost overruns. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo summed up the local mindset when he criticized the lack of federal support in 2015: “Why don’t you pay for it? It’s not my tunnel. It is an Amtrak tunnel that is used by Amtrak and by New Jersey Transit.”
 
The Obama administration agreed later that year to devote significant federal funds for Gateway, and New Jersey’s Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, now chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, made good on that offer last September when he circumvented the chamber’s earmark ban to allot $900 million for the project. This was the money my amendment would have stripped from the House transportation bill. Now, local and state officials are calling the allocation a “triumph for the region.”
 
The hypocrisy of the funding process convinced me to set my sights on the Gateway Program and risk challenging one of the more powerful officials in the House Republican Conference. Gateway’s history is a grim catalog of state irresponsibility being rewarded by federal largess. President Trump is right to make clear: Gateway is not our tunnel.

 

 
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