Lawmakers are currently debating whether to appropriate billions for a new rail tunnel that would connect Manhattan and New Jersey, a connection that’s key to one-fifth of the U.S. gross domestic product. Reports have suggested that despite initial enthusiasm President Donald Trump now wants nothing to do with the project, and on Tuesday, his transportation secretary admitted he personally intervened to kill it.
Dubbed the Gateway Project, it’s a $30 billion effort to construct a new tunnel into New York’s Penn Station to replace the dilapidated tubes that are continuing to fall into disrepair. It’d help ease congestion, and alleviate some of the wear and tear on frequently-used, aging transit infrastructure. Lawmakers wanted to include nearly $1 billion in a spending bill for the project, after the Obama administration agreed to pick up half the costs, but the Trump administration has tried to stop the deal.
Why is anyone’s guess. The Washington Post reported last weekend that Trump “personally appealed” to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to ensure no federal money is doled out for the project. On Tuesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao confirmed that indeed happened.
At a congressional hearing, congressman Sean Patrick Maloney asked Chao if the Post’s reporting was accurate. Chao played coy at first, according to New York Magazine:
“I read it in the newspapers, just like you did,” a clearly displeased Chao responded.
“Right — my question was if it’s true,” Maloney parried back.
Chao allowed that it probably was, but that Maloney would have to check with the White House, an answer that did not satisfy him.
After some tense back and forth, Maloney asked again: “Is the president of the United States personally intervening with the Speaker to kill this project?”
Chao then backed down. “Yes!” she said. “The president is concerned about the viability of this project and the fact that New York and New Jersey have no skin in the game.”
Here’s video of the back-and-forth:
One theory on Trump’s effort to kill a massive project that would benefit his hometown is that he’s trying to spite Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for blocking some of his nominees. Given that Trump, as we noted yesterday, enthusiastically supported the project at first, it seems more likely this has to do with some personal vendetta than fiscal responsibility, like Chao suggests.
At any rate, it’s not great for our economy or our infrastructure, two things the president has pledged to improve.