October 6, 2017: TUNNEL TROUBLE?

The push to build another railroad tunnel linking New York and New Jersey may hinge on support from the White House.  Will the President get on board? Or will the gateway tunnel get stuck at the station?  We talk to Philip K. Howard, the chair of Common Good for the answers. 

TRANSCRIPT

> A NEW TUNNEL TO CONNECT NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY TRAIN LINES AND EASE COMMUTING?

THE GATEWAY PROJECT, A PLAN TO BUILD JUST THAT TYPE OF STRUCTURE FOR CLOSE TO $30 BILLION, HAS STOPPED AND STALLED FOR YEARS.

NOW IT SEEMS THERE MAY BE A NEW ALLY FOR ITS CONSTRUCTION IN THE FORM OF PRESIDENT TRUMP.

LEADING I AUDITION DOES WITH NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY -- LEADING A DISCUSSION WITH NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY OFFICIALS THAT INCLUDED CHUCK SCHUMER AND CORY BOOKER AS WELL AS GOVERNORS ANDREW CUOMO AND CHRIS CHRISTIE, PRESIDENT TRUMP SEEMED ENTHUSIASTIC FOR THE PROGRAM.

DESPITE THE MEETING, THE WHITE HOUSE HAS NOT YET COMMITTED TO FUNDING.

GOVERNOR CUOMO LATER STATED, 'WHILE THE WHITE HOUSE MEETING WAS PRODUCTIVE, IT WAS INCONCLUSIVE.'

WILL THIS PROJECT EVER GET OFF THE GROUND?

JOINING ME WITH THE LATEST IS PHILLIP K. HOWARD, AN EXPERT ON THE GATEWAY TUNNEL PROJECT, AND CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMON GOOD, A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION WHOSE GOAL IS TO SIMPLIFY GOVERNMENT.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

NICE TO BE WITH YOU.

ALL RIGHT.

WE HAVE ALL OF THESE POWER PLAYERS, MOVERS AND SHAKESHAKER TOGETHER IN ONE ROOM, WHO PULLS THE TRIGGER AND SAYS OKAY BECAUSE IT SEEMS WE'VE BEEN CHEWING OVER THIS FOR DECADES.

PRESIDENT TRUMP PROPOSES A BUDGET, AND THE BUDGET NEEDS TO INCLUDE MONEY FOR THIS VITAL PROJECT FOR THE NEW YORK AREA WHICH IS 10% OF THE NATION'S ECONOMY.

CONGRESS HAS TO AGREE AND PUT THAT MONEY IN THE BUDGET.

IN THE BUDGET THAT PRESIDENT TRUMP PRESENTED EARLIER THIS YEAR, THERE WAS ZERO MONEY FOR THIS PROJECT OR INDEED FOR THE FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION WHICH FUNDS RAIL AND TRANSIT PROJECTS.

SO HE RECENTLY SAID THAT HE WOULD AGREE TO A 50/50 SPLIT WITH THE STATES ON THIS PROJECT WHICH IS WHAT THE STATES WERE ASKING FOR.

HE STILL HAS TO PROPOSE IT.

AND CONGRESS STILL HAS TO AGREE WITH IT.

SO THERE'S STILL A LONG WAY TO GO WITH THIS, UNFORTUNATELY.

WELL, THERE ARE DECISIONS TO BE MADE.

DECISIONS CAN BE MADE IN A MATTER OF WEEKS.

IT REQUIRES LEADERSHIP, COMMITTED LEADERSHIP, TO SPEND PUBLIC MONEY TO DO THIS VITAL PROJECT.

WELL, PERHAPS THE LEADERSHIP MIGHT BE MOVED IF THEY KNEW WHY THIS WAS SO IMPORTANT.

AND OF COURSE LEADERSHIP IS ALWAYS MOVED BY CONSTITUENTS AND THEIR CONCERNS.

THAT'S RIGHT.

OUTSIDE PRESSURE.

YES.

OUTSIDE PRESSURE.

SO WHAT MAKES THE GATEWAY TUNNEL SO CRUCIAL?

WHY IS THIS A NON -- NON- YDOAB PROJECT?

THERE ARE TWO RAIL TUNNELS INTO MANHATTAN THAT SERVE AMTRAK AND NEW JERSEY TRANSIT.

100,000 PEOPLE COME IN ON THESE RAILS EVERY DAY, AND 100,000 GO OUT.

THOSE TUNNELS WERE OVER 100 YEARS OLD, AND THEY WERE BADLY DAMAGED BY SUPERSTORM SANDY.

SOMETIMES THEY CLOSE DOWN, SOMETIMES FOR DAYS, WHEN PEOPLE -- THEY'RE SO FRAGILE AND DECREPIT.

THEY NEED TO BE -- THERE NEED TO BE TWO NEW TUNNELS BUILT SO THAT WE DON'T HAVE 25-MILE GRIDLOCK WHICH IS WHAT HAPPENS WHENEVER THEY CLOSE DOWN.

THEN ONCE THE TWO NEW TUNNELS ARE BUILT, THEN THOSE TWO OLD TUNNELS CAN GET REHABILITATED, AND THEN THE COMMUTE WILL BECOME QUICKER FOR DOUBLE THE CAPACITY.

AND AGAIN, I WANT TO SORT OF EXPLAIN TO PEOPLE ABOUT THIS NORTHEAST DIRECT ROUTE THAT ALL THESE TRENDS ARE TAKING.

IT'S NOT JUST COMMUTE TRAINS GOING THROUGH, LIKE NEW JERSEY TRANSIT.

THERE'S AMTRAK, THERE'S -- THERE IS --

WE'RE LIVING ON THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF OUR GREAT, GREAT GRANDPARENTS.

THESE TUNNELS WERE BUILT 105 YEARS AGO.

THERE WAS A BRIDGE IN BETWEEN NEWARK AND THE TUNNEL CALLED THE PORTAL BRIDGE WHICH WAS ALSO BUILT ABOUT 110 YEARS AGO.

THE BRIDGE WHICH IS BASED ON BASICALLY CIVIL WAR TECHNOLOGY, THIS OLD IRON AND WOODBRIDGE, SOMETIMES CATCHES ON FIRE.

THE BRIDGE HAS TO OPEN UP TO LET BARGES COME THROUGH ON THE RIVER, AND THEN SOMETIMES IT DOESN'T CLOSE PROPERLY, AND IT TAKES HOURS -- PEOPLE ARE SIT ON TRAINS FOR HOURS, ON AMTRAK, TRYING TO GET TO WASHINGTON OR GET TO NEW YORK WHILE THEY TRY TO LINE UP THE RAILS AGAIN WITH THIS BRIDGE THAT OUGHT TO BE IN A MUSEUM.

THAT BRIDGE HAS TO BE REPLACED.

THAT'S PART OF THIS PROJECT, TOO.

YOU CAN'T CONTINUE TO HAVE THE GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD WHEN PEOPLE GET STUCK IN 100-YEAR-OLD INFRASTRUCTURE ON AN UNPREDICTABLE BUT SOMEWHAT FREQUENT BASIS.

WHERE DO YOU SEE THE WILL NOW TO PUT GOVERNMENT FUNDING BACK INTO INFRASTRUCTURE THE WAY WE DID 100 YEARS AGO?

AS YOU WERE SAYING -- IS THERE ENOUGH POLITICAL WILL BEHIND THAT?

IF YOU WANT TO INVEST IN A MODERN ECONOMY, IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A MODERN -- YOU HAVE TO INVEST IN IT.

AND SO FAR WE HAVEN'T HAD THE POLITICAL WILL TO DO THAT.

CONGRESSMAN FREELNGHYEY AT THE N IS CHAIRMAN OF THE HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE.

HE SKILLFULLY IN THE PROPOSED BUDGET FROM THE HOUSE PUT IN $900 MILLION TO GET STARTED ON THE PORTAL BRIDGE, THAT ANCIENT 100-YEAR-OLD BRIDGE, REPLACING THAT RIGHT NOW.

AND IF CONGRESS WOULD PASS THAT, THE WORK WOULD GET STARTED TO FIX THAT BRIDGE LITERALLY IN, YOU KNOW, ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

SO THE FACT THAT WE'VE HAD, WHAT WAS IT, THESE FIVE GENTLEMEN TOGETHER IN THE ROOM, THE TWO SENATORS, THE TWO GOVERNORS, AND THE PRESIDENT, IS THIS A POSITIVE STEP, YES OR NO?

YES.

IT'S PROGRESS.

NOW THEY HAVE TO ACT ON IT.

LISTEN, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO JOIN US AND TALK TO US ABOUT SOME OF THE COMMON SENSE AND HOPEFULLY THE GATEWAY TUNNEL WHICH WE WILL HOPEFULLY SEE SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019