January 18, 2018 / 8:37 PM / 9 months ago

Funding unclear for New York-New Jersey Gateway rail program

NEW YORK, Jan 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. federal government’s share of funding for the Gateway railroad project between New York and New Jersey could become clearer after U.S. President Donald Trump submits a budget to Congress, the program’s interim director said on Thursday.

Officials from both states have said that funding for the massive $24 billion rail infrastructure program, which includes a badly needed new tunnel underneath the Hudson River, would come from both local and federal sources.

Washington’s share, however, was recently thrown into question after the Federal Transit Administration told New York state in a December letter that a 2015 cost-sharing agreement for one of the program’s projects was “non-existent.”

“There is no such agreement,” the letter said. “We consider it unhelpful to reference a non-existent ‘agreement’ rather than directly address the responsibility for funding a local project where 9 out of 10 passengers are local transit riders.”

In addition to a new rail tunnel, the Gateway project includes repairing the Amtrak national passenger rail company’s century-old line between New York City and Newark, New Jersey.

The Gateway Program Development Corp’s interim director, John Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corporation, addressed federal funding concerns in a meeting about the program in Newark on Thursday.

“The typical process on the federal side is with the submission of the president’s budget to Congress,” which historically has happened in February, Porcari said.

The budget would include projects eligible for the Federal Transit Administration’s capital improvement grants program, he said.

Porcari told reporters after the meeting that a project of national significance such as Gateway must have “a federal partner,” adding: “We’re confident in the final analysis we will have a federal partner.”

At the same time, a permanent executive director to oversee the program has yet to be selected.

Porcari has been interim director since July 2016.

The chair of the Gateway Program corporation’s board of trustees, Steven Cohen, on Thursday said the director search was “complicated” because the program’s needs have shifted.

A year-and-a-half ago, the program might have focused on a candidate with deeper knowledge of engineering, he said.

“You now may be viewing it as something where understanding of the operations of Washington and funding is equally, if not more, important,” he said. (Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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