The Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives will likely give the New York metro region political leeway — and potentially put Democrats in a position to twist arms and make deals with the Trump administration — as New York and New Jersey vie for federal dollars for the region's estimated $30 billion infrastructure project.
That’s according to Jerry Zaro, the New Jersey trustee for the Gateway Development Corp., who spoke at NJBIZ’s “Moving the Gateway Program Forward” panel discussion, on Wednesday morning at The Imperia in Somerset.
GDC is the nonprofit tasked with overseeing the project that will feature the construction of a new $12 billion two-track Hudson River rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan, directly serving New York Penn Station, and the rehabilitation of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River.
Proponents of the project, including the New Jersey Congressional delegation and Gov. Phil Murphy, have accused the Trump administration of treating the project as a “political hostage.”
According to Zaro, in exchange for federal funding for the Gateway project, President Donald Trump might insist that Congressional Democrats put money towards his controversial border wall proposal for the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The house does have enormous levers… pressure points that they can put on the White House,” Zaro said. “They have investigatory powers. They can really make life miserable.”
And, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., could likely chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee, a key role in crafting the national budget, lending more power to the region.
Meanwhile, Trump has hinted at a potential government shutdown if House Democrats do not agree to funding for the wall, and said he would take a “war-like stance” if Democrats attempt to investigate him.
“We have applied and complied with all funding for these projects. The GDC partners, New York, New Jersey, Amtrak and the Port Authority are doing everything we possibly can to move Gateway forward,” Zaro said. “We’ve collectively committed to 100 percent of the local share of funding, totaling over $6 billion.”
The tunnels, which carry hundreds of thousands of commuters between Manhattan and New Jersey, are in dire need of repair, especially after suffering damage following 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.
Officials say within the next decade they would have to take some or all of the tunnels out of service to conduct repairs, which could severely cripple the regional infrastructure.
“But at this moment, as we sit here,” Zaro said. “Gateway is a political pawn, a political hostage in Washington D.C.”
Trump will be meeting today with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to discuss the Gateway project, Zaro said.
David Hutter contributed to this report.