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Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair). (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Buttigieg visit stokes Gateway optimism

Sherrill believes project will overcome Cuomo’s resistance to state funding

By Nikita Biryukov, June 28 2021 1:42 pm

The outlook for the once-stalled Gateway Tunnel Project has brightened considerably under President Joe Biden, and Democratic lawmakers are pushing to get shovels in the ground a year earlier than expected, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) told the New Jersey Globe.

Sherrill, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and other members of the New Jersey and New York Congressional delegations toured the two existing tunnels beneath the Hudson River Monday in an effort to stoke support for new tunnels bridging the Garden State to the Big Apple.

“I think we’re moving along at a really good pace,” Sherrill said. “It was important for him to see it today, but I think what we heard today that felt even more helpful was [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer saying that while the anticipated date for shovels in the ground is roughly 2023, 2024, he is going to lead the New York and New Jersey delegation in pushing for 2022 to move that process along more quickly.”

Under President Donald Trump’s lone term in office, progress on Gateway was stuck at a standstill for years. An environmental impact statement and record of decision needed for the new tunnels under the Hudson River weren’t completed until last month, though some work on a replacement for the 111-year-old Portal Bridge did begin in early 2020.

Funds for the federal half of Gateway are present in a bipartisan infrastructure bill being negotiated in Washington, and there’s little reason to believe those monies will be on the cutting room floor before the bill is passed.

Still, there’s some question about New York’s share of the costs after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state should not be responsible for roughly 25% of the because of infrastructure investments it made at Moynihan Station and at a junction in the Sunnyside train yards.

But the congresswoman doesn’t think Cuomo’s disagreement will imperil the $11.6 billion project.

“We’ve heard what Cuomo’s saying, but everyone today, including from Coscia, including Sen. Schumer, I think today sounds like we will come to an agreement on that and New York will put up its fair share,” Sherrill said, referring to Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony Coscia.

The cost-sharing agreement remains largely unchanged from what it was in 2017, when Cuomo and then-Gov. Chris Christie committed to funding the state share of the development costs. As then, the federal government will provide roughly half the funds, while New Jersey and New York are each responsible for half of the remainder.

Sherrill and other the project’s other proponents — which number many and spread across both sides of the political spectrum — argue new tunnels are needed to protect the economy of a region that accounts for roughly a fifth of the nation’s GDP.

A failure in the tunnels could reverberate through the country, impacting supply chains even in inland states, and those tunnels are crumbling now more than ever.

“I’ve been on this glass train. I’ve been actually in the tunnels themselves around midnight. They don’t look good,” Sherrill said.. There’s exposed rebar. There’s degraded concrete. We know because this is 1900s-era technology, even the way they conduct the electricity through these concrete sides, as they get corroded from Superstorm Sandy, we start to have these signaling problems.”

Like the Portal Bridge, the existing tunnels are more than a century old, meaning they’re ungraced by most of the technological advances made since the early 19th century.

Gateway is a key issue in Sherrill’s 11th congressional district. It featured as a prominent issue in her 2018 and 2020 races, and her focus on it has earned her a moniker that others might find irksome.

“I’ve been called the tunnel-obsessed congresswoman, which is something I was very proud of,” she said. “In fact, several of my colleagues make fun of me because they claim that just when they think I can’t shoehorn Gateway into a conversation, I find a way.”

But it’s not all about economics. Residents in Sherrill’s commuter-heavy district feel the effects of train delays and cancellations in more places than just their wallets.

“Here in New Jersey, I can tell you there’s also a very personal impact because most of my towns lie along these rail corridors, and as the commute degrades, that degrades people’s quality of life — not making it home for somebody’s soccer game or not making it home for dinner,” she said. “It’s really not just an economic impact here. It’s a very personal impact.”

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