6:19 pm Sep. 28, 2012
At a breakfast event hosted by the New York Building Congress on Friday morning, Senator Chuck Schumer announced his "full-throated support" for an Amtrak plan to add two new tunnels under the Hudson River, and made the case that the project should be funded with federal transportation dollars.
The proposed "Gateway" project, which is still in the early planning stages, would add two more tunnels to the existing two between New York and New Jersey, and, in doing so, replace the planned ARC project that was scrapped in 2010 by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who pulled the state's funding for the project, citing cost overruns.
"To have a bottleneck doesn't just hurt people in New York and New Jersey, it hurts people around the country," Schumer told a packed ballroom at the Pierre Hotel on East 61st Street, which included MTA chairman Joe Lhota, Rep. Jerry Nadler, and aspiring congressman Mark Murphy.
Schumer said the congested tunnels put a strain on regional airports too, which has an effect on air travel across the nation.
"If we get our mass transit going in the northeast corridor, it will relieve air traffic congestion," he said, adding, "So there's a national interest to do this, we ought to have national dollars to do it."
Schumer stressed the urgency of getting some initial federal funding—$10 million in 2013 and $100 million in 2014—to facilitate the early stages of the project, which would require determining the alignment of the tracks beneath the Hudson Yards development on the West Side, before construction is slated to begin on the site.
Schumer called on the business leaders in the audience to be more vocal in pushing back against a faction in Congress that loudly opposes federal funding for infrastructure.
"My call to all of you—there are 100 people in the House and Senate, some of whom are New York's representatives—who are fighting having any federal involvement in infrastructure," he said. "We need the business community particularly to start raising its voices more."
He said the business community had perked up during the battle over the last transportation bill, but that the bill's two-year funding allocation was insufficient for planning projects.
He argued that Republicans had once supported federal transportation—harkening back to Henry Clay (who Schumer conceded was actually a Whig)—and that the current Republican leadership still would support such bills, if not for a vocal minority.
"There are lots of mainstream Republicans who agree with us on this issue, but they're held back by a very strong-willed group," he said. "And even I think Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell, whose sympathies would be on our side, are constrained by them. The best antidote is the business community speaking out against them, so I hope you will."