Frelinghuysen pushes $900M for new rail tunnel project
WASHINGTON (AP) — A huge railroad and transit project to build new bridge and tunnel capacity for travel between New York and New Jersey would receive a whopping $900 million next year if a senior New Jersey Republican has his way.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is moving to boost the New York and New Jersey's Gateway project in large part by eliminating a popular $500 million infrastructure grant program championed by former President Barack Obama. That program funded transportation projects nationwide, including set-asides for rural areas.
Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., also would earmark $400 million in mass transit grants toward a new tunnel under the Hudson River to service Amtrak and a New Jersey commuter rail line.
Gov. Chris Christie hailed the work done by Frelinghuysen in a statement on Tuesday calling it a "triumph for our region."
"Only through the leadership of Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen is this type of congressional commitment possible," Christie said. "I urge Senators Schumer, Menendez, Gillibrand and Booker to match the commitment of Congressman Frelinghuysen in the United States Senate."
The move by the 12-term Republican is reminiscent of pork barrel politics of the recent past, when powerful lawmakers like Sen. Robert Byrd used the annual appropriations bills that fund the government to move billions of dollars into their states. Earmarks were officially banned after Republicans took back the House in 2011, but there are ways around the ban.
Frelinghuysen faces challenges from the right with a potential primary and on left from Democrats in his bid for another term next year in a competitive north-central New Jersey district.
"Rebuilding the Hudson Tunnels is of vital importance to my home state of New Jersey and our region, Frelinghuysen said in a statement confirming the $900 million set-aside. "New Jersey residents have been plagued by perpetual delays and decaying infrastructure."
The move by Frelinghuysen may receive its strongest backing from powerful Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York.
"The No. 1 infrastructure project in all of America is the gateway project," Schumer said recently. But elimination of the Obama-sponsored TIGER grant program, which was created by the 2009 economic stimulus measure but has won bipartisan support since, is likely to face opposition in the Senate.
The money is contained in a $56.5 billion transportation and housing funding bill that's slated for a vote by an appropriations subcommittee Tuesday evening. It's one of 12 long-overdue spending bills that Frelinghuysen and other lawmakers are working to advance, despite intra-GOP quarreling and a dysfunctional budget climate in Washington.
Rep. Leonard Lance issued a statement saying that "Congress is wise to invest in the Gateway tunnel proposal."
"The Hudson River tunnel project is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country, providing a critical link between New Jersey and New York where our regional economy contributes $3.7 trillion to the nation's GDP," he said. "This is a major win for Garden State commuters that would not have been possible without the leadership of New Jersey's own Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen."
The measure rejects almost $10 billion is program cuts proposed by President Donald Trump in his unpopular may budget, restoring almost $3 billion for community development projects and a $150 million appropriation to subsidize money-losing air service to rural airports, among other programs.
Later Tuesday, Frelinghuysen will unveil a homeland security funding measure that's sure to fund Trump's $2.6 billion request for planning and to begin construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
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