Democrats, Chao clash on NYC Gateway project

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Elaine Chao, U.S. Transportation Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
WASHINGTON — Sparks flew March 6 during an argument about Amtrak's Gateway program between Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and New Jersey and New York members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Chao was the sole witness at a hearing to discuss the Trump administration's trillion-dollar infrastructure revitalization plans. Rail and transit infrastructure got little attention during the three-hour session. But voices raised on both sides of the witness table when Gateway came up. Gateway is a series of infrastructure projects on the Northeast Corridor in New York and New Jersey. The crown jewel is a new tunnel under the Hudson River.

The conflict is not new. House members left a Sept. 17, 2017, meeting at the White House believing that the president supported the project. Chao said the administration had made no commitments.

“Everybody there left very enthusiastic. The president seemed to be supportive of this project,” says U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. “But lately it seems like this project has come under attack. First, rejecting the 50-50 partnership agreement between New Jersey, New York, and the U.S. government.”

That deal was struck during President Barack Obama's administration. Sires also noted the elimination of Federal Transit Administration Capital Improvement Grants under Trump's proposed budget.

“Now there are reports that the president is appealing to Speaker (of the House of Representatives Paul) Ryan to pull all the funding for the Gateway tunnel,” Sires says.
The Washington Post reported on March 2 that the president “personally appealed to Ryan, ... to target federal funding for the $30 billion Gateway project.”

When asked to verify the president's comments, Chao said she was not privy to the conversation, and referred the congressmen to the White House.

“When this meeting occurred at the White House, we were very polite. We were cordial. There was no commitment at all,” Chao says. “The attendees of that meeting spun the results as they wanted the meeting to be. There's no agreement. There has never been an agreement. Secretary [Anthony] Foxx said at a political rally in the heat of the campaign in 2016 that he was going to help. There's no documentation. There's no paperwork. In fact, there's no pending application.”

Foxx was Obama's transportation secretary from 2013 to 2016.

Chao complained there was “so much misinformation” about the project. She told U.S. Rep. Don Payne Jr., D-N.J., that the two states were offering to fund 5 percent.

“They are going to use [Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act] loans that they're going to get from us as part of their down payment.

“And please understand, New York and New Jersey are going to have to up their local share,” Chao says. “New York and New Jersey are two of the richest states in the country. We want to work together, there's no doubt about that. But working together also means that New York and New Jersey have got to come up with more than zero financing.”

“That is absolutely incorrect,” Payne says.

“Well sir, I think we have a disagreement about the facts,” Chao responded.
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