Menendez Presses Fed Chair on Economic Impact of Gateway Delay, Potential NEC Failure
Chairman Powell says sustained failure of Portal Bridge or Hudson rail tunnels would put economy at risk
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee, today pressed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on the economic impact of a failure on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) of either the Portal Bridge or Hudson River rail tunnels, and the urgency to complete the Gateway Project.
“Would that not create a significant economic risk?” Sen. Menendez asked.
“If it were sustained, yes,” responded Chairman Powell, who was testifying before the full Senate Banking Committee, of which Sen. Menendez is a senior member. “If you’re talking about a sustained closing, [then] that could. Things happen and we fix them and they don’t show up much in GDP, but if they’re sustained, then, yes.”
Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C. generates one-fifth of the nation’s economy, but a failure of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in Kearny, N.J., or the trans-Hudson rail tunnels would grind rail traffic on the NEC to a halt for an indefinite amount of time, costing the country $100 million a day, according to Amtrak estimates.
The century-old infrastructure handles 450 trains and 200,000 passenger trips daily and is in dire need of replacement. Superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters only further exacerbated the state of the aging Hudson River tunnels.
“If it can’t be closed successfully,” Sen. Menendez said of the oft-malfunctioning Portal Bridge, “they take sledgehammers to close it. That has a significant economic impact and I would urge the Fed to look at that as a question about our infrastructure needs. That’s why I’m so frustrated by the [Trump] administration not seeing the importance of what we call the Gateway Project.”
On Monday, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that it upgraded its rating to medium-high for the Portal North Bridge replacement project—a significant step towards making it eligible for federal funding—but maintained a medium-low rating for construction of a new trans-Hudson River rail tunnel.
Earlier this month, Sen. Menendez joined a group of senators from all eight states along the Northeast Corridor in demanding the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) finalize and approve plans to immediately advance the Hudson Tunnel Project.
In an effort to reduce the risk and impact of a Portal Bridge failure during peak travel times, Sen. Menendez helped broker an agreement by the U.S. Coast Guard to restrict large marine vessels from passing through the Portal Bridge along the Hackensack River during morning and evening rush hours. In October and at the Senator’s request, the Coast Guard agreed to take steps to make that order permanent pending the completion of the Portal Bridge replacement, which will be higher and no longer need to open for passing marine craft.
Sen. Menendez has also consistently supported and voted to fund federal programs that could be used to advance Gateway.