Menendez, Booker Call for Robust Infrastructure Funding in Wake of Recent Derailments

Menendez, Booker Call for Robust Infrastructure Funding in Wake of Recent Derailments

 
WASHINGTON, DC – On the heels of two recent derailments at New York Penn Station that crippled travel along the Northeast Corridor, today U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ) urged Senate leadership to include robust infrastructure funding in the FY 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill. In a letter to Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Jack Reed, Menendez and Booker called for $2.3 billion for the New Starts capital grant program and $1.6 billion to support Amtrak, critical programs that President Trump’s proposed budget slashes.

“Recognizing the urgent threat to our state and the dire need for infrastructure investment around the country, we urge you to reject President Trump’s dangerous proposed cuts and follow the bipartisan congressional commitment to provide robust funding for the CIG and Amtrak,” the lawmakers wrote. “These critical programs will create jobs, provide a significant return on investment, improve reliability and safety, and improve quality of life for the American people.”

A budget proposal released by the Trump Administration in March slashes U.S. Department of Transportation discretionary programs by $2.4 billion, dramatically reduces federal support for Amtrak, and shutters the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. The budget proposal also zeros-out the New Starts capital grant program, which threatens to terminate work on critical components to the Gateway Program including replacing the century-old Portal Bridge in New Jersey and new trans-Hudson rail tunnels.

As part of their commitment to moving the Gateway Program forward, in December Sens. Booker, Menendez and Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced provisions benefiting Gateway that were included in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the first Federal law in over ten years to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation.

In helping to jumpstart the project, in August 2015 Sen. Booker and Sen. Menendez met with Governor Christie and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Foxx to discuss governance and funding for the Gateway Program. Coming out of that meeting, in November 2016 Sen. Booker joined Governors Christie and Cuomo and Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand in announcing they reached an agreement on funding commitments and a governance structure that will allow the Gateway Tunnel Project to move forward.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

April 7, 2017

The Honorable Susan Collins                                   The Honorable Jack Reed

Chairman                                                                   Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Transportation,                           Subcommittee on Transportation,

Housing, and Urban Development                          Housing, and Urban Development

Committee on Appropriations                                  Committee on Appropriations

United States Senate                                                 United States Senate

Washington, D.C.  20510                                          Washington, D.C.  20510

Dear Chairman Collins and Ranking Member Reed:

Commuters, businesses, and families rely on our rail and transit systems to work safely and efficiently, but these systems operate best with sustained federal support. As you work on this year’s funding package, we urge you to provide $2.3 billion for new transit projects and $1.6 billion to support Amtrak. President Trump’s budget drastically cut funding to these programs, but they are critical to the state of New Jersey and to the entire Northeast region as we work to improve our rail and transit systems, including the Gateway Project to build the new Hudson River rail tunnels and replace the century-old Portal Bridge in New Jersey.

The two recent derailments in New York Penn Station underscore how dangerous President Trump’s proposed cuts are to the safety, economic productivity, and wellbeing of one of the most important economic regions in the world and the most populous metropolitan area in the United States. As a result of the first derailment alone, over 300,000 NJ Transit and Long Island Railroad passengers were delayed. The second derailment caused 8 of the 21 tracks under Penn Station to be shut down for multiple days. While it is too soon to quantify the significant economic toll on the region caused by these derailments, it is estimated that the loss of the Northeast Corridor for a single day would cost the U.S. $100 million in travel delays and lost productivity.

These derailments should be a warning call. They effectively blocked access into Penn Station in the same way that a failure in one of the two Hudson River tunnels would, and they caused massive delays and hardship for commuters. If we do not begin work on the Gateway Project, these scenarios could become a permanent problem, wreaking havoc on the region. The economic losses for businesses and lost time and frustration of tens of thousands of our constituents in the last several weeks are only a preview of what may come if construction of new tunnels and a replacement of the Portal Bridge do not begin immediately.

We urge you to support funding for the Capital Investment Grants (CIG), which are used to build transit projects like Portal Bridge, and to support the maintenance and operations of Amtrak’s system. These programs garnered strong bipartisan support as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which authorized $2.3 billion to CIG and $1.6 billion for Amtrak. These programs benefit communities throughout the country and help drive economic investment while also alleviating local transportation problems. For example, Portal Bridge in New Jersey carries more than 400 Amtrak and transit trains per day traveling between Newark, New Jersey, and Penn Station in New York City. Portal Bridge is the equivalent of a major highway carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers to work each day. However, this bridge, which opens and closes for maritime traffic, is a major bottleneck and source of delay for thousands of NJ Transit and Amtrak passengers up and down the whole Northeast Corridor. As part of the broader Gateway Program, NJ Transit and Amtrak have completed final design and federal environmental review for the Portal North Bridge and are planning to commence construction in 2018, should federal dollars be appropriated. Requests for funding for the Portal North Bridge are included in Amtrak’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Justification, the Northeast Corridor Commission Five-Year Capital Plan Fiscal Years 2016-2020, and in the FTA pipeline.

Recognizing the urgent threat to our state and the dire need for infrastructure investment around the country, we urge you to reject President Trump’s dangerous proposed cuts and follow the bipartisan congressional commitment to provide robust funding for the CIG and Amtrak. These critical programs will create jobs, provide a significant return on investment, improve reliability and safety, and improve quality of life for the American people. Your committee has been a strong supporter of these programs in the past. We thank you for your work on these critical programs and for your consideration of this request.

                                                            Sincerely,

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