***VIDEO RELEASE*** Menendez Votes ‘NO’ on FTA Nom over Failure to Stake Clear Position on Gateway

***VIDEO RELEASE*** Menendez Votes ‘NO’ on FTA Nom over Failure to Stake Clear Position on Gateway

Senator: Politicizing transit decisions ‘a recipe for disaster’

   

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate’s mass transit subcommittee, today voted ‘no’ on former Congresswoman Thelma Drake’s (R-Va.) confirmation to lead the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), citing her shifting responses regarding the Gateway Project throughout the course of a private meeting she had with the senator, during her confirmation hearing, and in her written responses to questions for the record, and growing concern that the Trump Administration has politicized critical transit decisions. 

“While it was clear that she personally believed Gateway to be ‘nationally important,’ to quote her own words in our private meeting, it was equally clear that she was instructed not to acknowledge that reality in public, lest it undermine the Trump Administration’s political opposition to the project,” said Sen. Menendez during today’s full Banking Committee executive session.  “She was further unable to provide clear answers on what benchmarks Gateway would need to meet to gain DOT’s approval, which raises concerns that DOT will—once again—move the goalposts on the bipartisan stakeholders working so hard to get this project done.” 

CLICK TO WATCH

During last month’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Menendez pressed Drake on whether Gateway is a project of national significance, a view she concurred with during a private meeting with the senator, but then changed her response before the committee and avoided clearly answering written follow-up questions the senator submitted.

President Trump has been actively trying to derail Gateway, threatening to veto the recent omnibus spending bill if it included any funding for the project.  However, Sen. Menendez successfully fought to include $541 million to advance Gateway.  Earlier this year, the Trump Administration inexplicably downgraded the project’s ratings that impact eligibility for federal funding. 

The Gateway Program is a comprehensive rail investment program designed to add critical resiliency and create new capacity on the 10-mile stretch of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Newark, N.J. and Penn Station New York.  It includes replacing the more-than-a-century-old Portal Bridge, a moveable swing-span bridge that opens for marine traffic over the Hackensack River cutting off NEC rail service, and building new trans-Hudson tunnels to support an approximate doubling of rail capacity between Newark and New York, the busiest section of railroad in North America, supporting 450 daily and commuter intercity trains and some 200,000 passenger trips.  

As a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the transit New Starts program, Sen. Menendez was instrumental in ensuring Gateway’s eligibility for robust federal funding

In March, New Jerseyans got a glimpse of the commuting nightmare that would occur if Gateway is not completed before either the Portal Bridge or Hudson River tunnels fail when the Portal Bridge got stuck in the open position during the height of the morning rush, cutting off rail service along the NEC between Newark and New York, causing massive commuter delays and a cascading ripple effect throughout the region’s entire transportation network.   

The economic impact of a failure of the Portal Bridge or trans-Hudson tunnels, which were damaged by Superstorm Sandy, before Gateway is completed would be catastrophic, costing an estimated $100 million a day to a region that generates $3.7 trillion, or 20% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The full transcript of Sen. Menendez’s statement in opposition of Drake follows:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Each year, the American people take over 10.5 billion transit trips.  Those riders deserve to know that U.S. Department of Transportation will judge transit investments fairly—based on a project’s contributions to safety, mobility, and accessibility.

“But that hasn’t been the case for the Gateway project, which is the two new trans-Hudson tunnels and the Portal Bridge, century-old tunnels and bridges that are critical to the entire Northeast Corridor.  The Department of Transportation has created roadblock after roadblock, leaving a region that contributes 20 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product hanging in the balance of their political gamesmanship.  Unfortunately, Congresswoman Drake’s answers to my questions were insufficient to convince me that her confirmation would help level the playing field.

“While it was clear that she personally believed Gateway to be ‘nationally important,’ to quote her own words in our private meeting with my staff, it was equally clear that she was instructed not to acknowledge that reality in public when I asked her questions here before the Committee, lest it undermine the Trump Administration’s political opposition to the project. 

“She was further unable to provide clear answers on what benchmarks Gateway would need to meet to gain DOT’s approval, which raises concerns that DOT will—once again—move the goalposts on the bipartisan stakeholders working so hard to get this project done. 

“I asked her, ‘Could she establish that for any project?’ and she wouldn’t.  I asked her whether she would ultimately make a commitment not to accept political interference in any decisions and, before this Committee, she would not answer that affirmatively.  It’s pretty amazing.

“Making the decisions on which tunnels get repaired or which bridges can be replaced through a political lens is a recipe for disaster, and it should be of concern to everyone on this Committee.

“So while I appreciate Congresswoman Drake’s service in the House and in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I can’t vote for her nomination until she and the Department of Transportation show better faith in working with us to move Gateway forward.” 

“And that’s why I voted ‘no,’ Mr. Chairman.  And I hope that we are not down the path of making political decisions on critical infrastructure for the country.  We’re talking about nearly $3 trillion that the northeast region generates for the entire United States of America.  When political decisions dictate what our infrastructure projects are, then we are down a path that I don’t think anybody wants to follow.”      

###