WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said her department is being bullied to reconsider federal funding of the Gateway Rail project.

During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked Chao if she would urge President Donald Trump commit to the Gateway Project.

"A campaign is being waged in the public arena to bully the department to pressure the federal government to fund these projects," Chao said, wagging her finger at the senator. She said the Gateway Project refers to nine different projects.

When Blumenthal asked her if the project is a good idea, Chao pushed back and said the discussion was not about the merits of the plan, but rather about the willingness to follow a process.

"I can't commit to something I don't know. They did not come in with a realistic financing plan. There's no application," Chao said.

Blumenthal finished by saying she should urge Trump not to shut down the government over funding of the project.

The allegation comes after funding for the project, which would replace the century-old Portal Bridge and add a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, was cut off at President Donald Trump's request.

Chao came out strongly against the money in a combative House hearing last week, telling lawmakers that New York and New Jersey need to put up a greater share of the project, which could ultimately cost $30 billion or so.

The existing rail tunnel, built in 1910, was badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy, when 10 million gallons of saltwater corroded the walls and electrical cables. Amtrak, which is heading up the project, has warned that inaction on the tunnel would severely cut rail capacity in the years ahead.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ.

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