Sen. Schumer Implores NY Biz Community to Act on Infrastructure
October 1, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Senator Charles Schumer implored New York's business community multiple times at a New York Building Congress event on Friday, September 28 to stand up to the ideologically-driven attempts to curb federally-funded infrastructure projects. There are about 100 House and Senate members who are rigidly opposed to using federal dollars for infrastructure, and the best antidote to that misconception is for the business community to step up, said Schumer.
But before Senator Schumer spoke about the big three ongoing infrastructure projects in the city, thanks to federal dollars, and future projects that’ll also require a big federal commitment, he credited John Sexton, New York University’s President, who introduced Mr. Schumer, “for acting as a masterful ballet dancer in resisting the voice of a small group that stop projects” on the scale that NYU is proposing for its Greenwich Village campus. (Matt Chaban of the New York Observer reported on Tuesday, September 25 that a group of NYU faculty, preservationists and community groups have filed a suit against the city.)
Schumer noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have estimated that it’ll take a mere $2.2 trillion over the next decade to repair and build new infrastructure. But with howls in Washington to cut the deficit, combined with huge sums of money going to military spending, Schumer did not mention where those monies will be found. In fact, he gave the Tea Party credit for putting a spotlight on the deficit, but in the same breadth said, “You can’t use a meat ax either.”
He also noted that in previous recessions 60 percent of new jobs created were in infrastructure and construction, but that number has dramatically fallen to 15 percent in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
But he considers himself an optimist, despite there being hardliners in Congress, because there are moderate, even conservative Republican representatives who recognize the importance of bi-partisan support for infrastructure spending.
“There was more infrastructure spending during Ronald Regan’s presidency. It never used to be a partisan issue. Even John Mica [chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee] realizes that in the Northeast, Amtrak is worthwhile” said Schumer.
He cited how federal commitment to projects like East Side Access, the 2nd Avenue Subway and the 7-line extension, as well as $83 million in TIGER grants to start phase one of transforming the Farley Post Office into a new transit hub, will help the city continue to thrive by attracting new businesses and industry and position itself to accommodate an increasing population, which went from 7 million in 1990 to 8.5 million today.
While the East Side Access will go a long way in bringing relief to passengers commuting from Queens and Long Island, Schumer warned that unless new tunnels are built under the Hudson River, the city could face not only bottlenecks, but worse, security risks such as fires, flooding and even a terrorist attack that could cost the city’s economy billions of dollars.
Therefore, he’s been working with Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who was as disappointed as Schumer when NJ Governor Chris Christie cancelled the Access to the Region’s Core project.
“Governor Christie’s cancellation of the ARC project presented our region with a stark choice,” said Schumer. “But in working with Senator Lautenberg, a new vision has emerged.”
ARC was oriented towards commuter rail that would have benefitted NJ Transit commuters, but the new, Amtrak-funded Gateway plan will benefit both commuter and high speed rail passengers with four main track lines between the city and Newark.
While preliminary funding has been secured for Gateway, there’s a dilemma that must be resolved immediately.
Schumer warned that action must be taken quickly as Amtrak engineers recently concluded that the only way to build the new tunnels to ultimately connect to Moynihan Station on 8th Avenue is under land where the Hudson Yards is going up, and the project has to start as soon as possible so as not to interfere with the Hudson Yards' construction schedules. Schumer said if the digging doesn't start soon, and $100 million in funding isn't secured for 2014 ($20 milliion has been secured for 2013), the new plan will go the way of ARC.
“Amtrak must reserve the space. We have to build the tunnel shells now. Fortunately, all the key players [MTA, Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group] are willing to cooperate with Amtrak,” Schumer said.
In response to Schumer’s challenge to New York’s business community to step up against Republican hardliners, Richard Anderson, President of the New York Building Congress, said in an interview, "We have to keep speaking out, just as the Senator suggested. There's no shortage of opposition for government spending, and we have to make the case that government investment in infrastructure pays off." firstname.lastname@example.org