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UTCANJ exec: Don't hold your breath on Gateway Tunnel funding

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Anthony Attanasio, executive director of New Jersey’s Utility & Transportation Contractors Assn., doesn’t expect the proposed Gateway project to be funded this year.

Attanasio spoke Wednesday at the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development conference at the Hilton Meadowlands.

"Transportation is the lifeblood of New Jersey.”

Anthony Attanasio, executive director, Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey

Gateway involves the planned expansion and renovation of the Northeast Corridor rail line between Newark and New York City. Attanasio does believe the project will be funded eventually.

“The reality is Gateway is in a precarious place right now, because certain people did not want to raise the gas tax,” Attanasio said. “I believe in the end the federal government will fund Gateway. … I believe this is a game of chicken between [President Trump] and [U.S. Sen.] Charles Schumer. The reality is the Republicans do not have enough votes in Washington to pass an infrastructure plan without Democrats. The Democrats don’t want to do anything to help Donald Trump [but] the reality is that Charles Schumer wants that tunnel more than anything.”

On other fronts, he lauded the 2016 hike to New Jersey’s gas tax by 23 cents in a move to bolster the transportation trust fund.

“The transportation trust fund renewal is the number one issue, because there is never enough money for infrastructure,” Attanasio said. “It is not easy to raise the gas tax, even when it’s the right thing to do. Transportation is the lifeblood of New Jersey.”

He noted the state Department of Transportation awarded $1.2 billion in paving contracts soon after the last gas hike.

“Raising the capital funds was a Herculean effort that took 28 years to do,” Attanasio said. “Now there is a problem with getting the money on the street. The problem is with people. The most important capital is human capital.”

Attanasio said transportation infrastructure involves complex processes. The DOT has lost 100 engineers to retirement in recent years and urged the transportation department to rehire retirees and to train new engineers.

 “What voters really need from their state government is bridges and pedestrian mobility,” Attanasio said. “What they see is asphalt and yellow stripes.”

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David Hutter

David Hutter

David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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