It’s no secret that the Trump administration has been much more hostile to the Amtrak Gateway Project than its predecessor. President Obama’s team had hashed out a 50/50 funding agreement between the federal government and New York and New Jersey officials to replace the aging tunnel under the Hudson River, but the Trump administration quickly moved to quash the deal last year.
According to NBC New York, the nonprofit National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is now suing the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) over concerns that the administration has unduly canceled the project. A federal Environmental Impact Statement for the project was supposed to have been completed by March 30, 2018, but the DOT has failed to produce any materials or answer the Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) filed by the NRDC in September. The suit alleges that progress on the Gateway tunnel is being stymied so that the administration might use it as a bargaining chip to help grease construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The 108-year-old, two-track rail tube that runs between New Jersey and New York services approximately 200,000 Amtrak passengers daily but was severely damaged by saltwater during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. With the looming possibility that one of the tunnels would fail (which Amtrak expects would reduce traffic by up to 75 percent), both New York and New Jersey had upped their commitments to the project to $5 billion out of the required $12.7 billion. The Obama administration’s pledge to fund half of the project would have largely been doled out in loans to the two states, a common method of funding infrastructure.
The alleged quashing of the environmental review isn’t the first time the current administration has been accused of playing hardball with the project to achieve its political aims. In March of last year, President Trump was reportedly meeting with congressional Republicans to kill the project in retaliation against Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Democratic leaders in the affected states.
The NRDC suit alleges that USDOT has been intentionally delaying any progress on the project and has gone so far to refer to the project under the codename “mushroom” to thwart FOIA requests. USDOT has denied impeding the Gateway Project for political reasons or using a code word to obfuscate its documentation and has chalked up the delay to what it calls an untenable funding model. The agency also issued the following statement: “It is false to say that DOT is blocking the Hudson Tunnels project, when in fact the project as it stands is actually ineligible to proceed.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had scheduled a sit down with president Trump at the White House over the state of the project in November of last year, as well as several high-profile, live-streamed tours of the crumbling tunnels. It appears that, for the time being, those overtures were for naught.
Lending fuel to the NRDC’s allegations is the recent decision by the Trump administration to demand the return of $2.5 billion in transportation grants given to California for their high-speed rail project, along with the possible cancelation of another $968 million grant. California’s Governor Gavin Newsom has argued that the move is purely political and a result of the state’s decision to sue the administration over its recent state of emergency declaration.