03.07.2018 0

Big Dig 2.0 comes to New York, and the bill goes to everyone else

By Printus LeBlanc

There is fight brewing in Congress over the funding of a local transportation project. Senators and House Members from New Jersey and New York are putting pressure on the administration to fund a massive multibillion-dollar local transportation project. President Donald Trump and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao are pushing back against that idea, not wanting to blow the entire transportation budget on one local project.

Why are New York and New Jersey politicians trying to get the rest of the country to finance the Big Dig 2.0?

The Gateway project is the renovation and expansion of the rail line between Newark and New York City, known as the Northeast Corridor. The project was originally supposed to be completed in 2026 and double the train capacity from 24 per hour to 48 while allowing for the possibility of high-speed rail service. The estimated price range has been anywhere from $20 billion to $30 billion, but anyone familiar with the Big Dig knows the price could quickly skyrocket to $70 billion to $80 billion. And for some reason, both New York and New Jersey believe the project is so important the rest of the nation should pay for it.

On Tuesday, Secretary Chao was peppered with questions about the lack of commitment from President Trump while testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Members from the New York and New Jersey area wanted to know where the funds for the local Gateway project are.

Chao would not take the Congressional beating lying down. Chao stood her ground, stating, “New York and New Jersey have got to up their local share… New York and New Jersey are two of the richest states in the country … They need to step up.”

Perhaps the most significant line from the hearing was Chao stating, “New York and New Jersey can come up with larger than zero or five percent.” The Secretary was noting the paltry $1.75 billion and $1.9 billion committed to by New York and New Jersey, respectively, in December.

This is not what the New York and New Jersey politicians wanted to hear. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) believed there was a deal in place with the Obama administration for the Port Authority to finance half of the project through user fees and the federal government would fund the remaining 50 percent.

Chao was also asked about President Trump’s involvement in the funding. It has been reported Trump asked House Speaker Pual Ryan to block funding for the project in the upcoming spending bill, which could amount to over $900 million. The Secretary stated, “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. They need to step up and bear their fair share. They are two of the richest states in the country. If they absorb all these funds, there will be no other funds for the rest of the country.”

Not only do the President and Secretary Chao not want the feds to pay for the project, but Members of Congress from around the country are also voicing their disappointment with the possibility their communities could be forced to fund the project. Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) stated, “North Carolina and the other 48 states should not have to foot the bill for this hall of fame earmark.”

Two questions need to be asked of the New York and New Jersey politicians.

  1. If the tunnels are over 100 years old and have needed repair and replacement for a while now, why didn’t it get done when the Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency? Wasn’t there a stimulus package for “shovel ready” jobs?
  2. If Hurricane Sandy damaged the tunnels and bridges, what did they spend the $50+ billion of from the Sandy Relief bill on?

If New York and New Jersey cannot answer these simple questions, what is to stop this project from becoming another taxpayer-funded boondoggle?

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning stated, “Congress should not force President Trump’s hand on funding the Gateway project without states passing legislation to fund the projects themselves at the levels the Trump administration, led by Chao, deems viable to work in a true partnership. Taxpayers from Texas to North Carolina should not have to pay for projects that not even the New York and New Jersey legislatures are willing to finance for their own peoples.”

Anyone that has been in the political game for more than five minutes knows how this was going to work. The New York and New Jersey politicians were counting on the federal government to front the money to start the project. Once the project was past the point of no return, tell the federal government it cannot be completed without more federal funds, thereby forcing the American taxpayers to cover the rest of the project.

The whole country laughed at Boston’s attempt at the most expensive highway project in the U.S., known as the Big Dig. The project ran a decade behind schedule and cost 190 percent more than the original estimate. It was plagued by leaks, design flaws, poor execution, and even death. If New York and New Jersey want their own version of the Big Dig, they can have it. Just don’t ask the rest of the country to pay for it.

Printus LeBlanc is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.

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