May 22, 2015
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Anthony Coscia, Chairman of the Board at Amtrak, said at the recent Trans-Hudson Summit that to start construction on the Gateway Project New York’s political leaders and opinion makers need to start making some noise to make the project a priority.
Coscia’s colleague at Amtrak, Drew Galloway, chief of planning and performance for the Northeast Corridor, opened his presentation at the summit on May 7 by going back in history to November 27, 1910—the day that Penn Station opened on Manhattan’s West Side, but noted also that it was on that day when the construction of a trans-Hudson rail crossing concluded.
“That’s 104 years and 161 days from today,” said Galloway.
The clock is ticking on how long the current tunnels can remain open, as Amtrak announced last year that the tunnels’ have only 20 years of use before they have to be shut down for repair.
According to Coscia, there is no more important project for Amtrak than the Gateway Project. As he said in a video interview with LaborPress recently, Amtrak has either spent or is committed to spending in excess of $300M on the project. But the whole project has a price tag of $15 to $20 billion, and the $300M is just a drop in the bucket Coscia said.
That’s when he told the attendees at the summit that, although Amtrak and other stakeholders in the region are cooperating on trying to execute the project, New York City’s leaders should be speaking up to secure the necessary funds.
“In terms of developing a funding mechanism, I think there is a great deal of support in Washington, D.C. for it, but New York City has an ability to motivate a great deal of political resources. To be blunt, there are many strong opinion makers either in the city or affected by it and I think it’s important that they get activated in a way that makes this a priority,” said Coscia.
Peter Rogoff, under secretary of Transportation for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said he wanted to follow up Coscia’s remarks with a somber reality of how infrastructure spending is currently being debated in Washington, D.C. as the current transportation funding plan is set to expire at month’s end.
“I agree with Tony that there needs to be a larger voice. We have found that when you get out into America—urban area and rural areas—they get it immediately in terms of what their immediate needs are and what the funding flows are. But then you get into the Beltway of Washington, D.C. and the disconnect is just incredibly stark, it sort of slaps you in the face,” said Rogoff. “Right now, a lot of the discussion in D.C., much to our dismay, has been just finding enough money to maintain the [transportation] trust fund balance so that we can freeze funding now and into the future. That’s gotta change if we’re going to be able to take on a multi-billion dollar project. That’s not just true of us, but in terms of our state partners. I think the legislators on both sides of the river, doesn’t matter what political party they’re from, need to understand that this same old, same old discussion that’s happening in D.C. can’t continue if we’re going to be able to make the game changing investments that we need to make like this one.”