December 19, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several provisions championed by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, that will unlock critical resources for New Jersey transportation priorities, such as the Gateway Program, were included in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 spending bill that was passed by the U.S. Senate today. The measure contains spending bills for the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Energy, Labor, Education, Transportation, State, Veterans Affairs, and related agencies through the end of FY 2020. The agreement would provide a total of $86.2 billion to the U.S. Department of Transportation, funding a number of key priorities for New Jersey.
The package includes $2 billion for Amtrak, including $700 million designated specifically for the Northeast Corridor, which represents an increase of $50 million over FY19 levels. It also includes $325 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program and $200 million for the State of Good Repair grants, which was threatened to be eliminated in the President's budget. Both programs were co-authored by Booker in the 2015 FAST Act and provide resources to upgrade aging railroad infrastructure that could help free up funds for the Gateway Program.
The bill also includes language clarifying that federal loans made to states as part of the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program, which states must pay back with local dollars, do indeed count as part of the states’ share and contribution to a transportation project when calculating match requirements. In 2018, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a formal policy change declaring that such contributions by states would not count toward their share of a project, meaning that New Jersey would be on the hook for an even greater financial contribution to the Gateway Program than previously expected. Booker, at committee hearings and in formal letters, had repeatedly urged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, to reverse this harmful policy change, paving the way for the clarifying language in today’s bill.
“The Gateway Program is the most pressing infrastructure project in our country and we know that should one of the tunnels shut down, the reverberations would be felt across the country’s economy,” Booker said. “While I wish there was more funding for this specific project included in the end-of-year spending bill, the increased funding for Amtrak and the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program will help provide critical transportation resources to New Jersey and the entire northeast corridor. I will continue to do everything I can to get the Gateway Program moving, despite the Administration’s continuous obstruction. New Jersey’s commuters need relief.”
Background on Booker’s work on the Gateway Program:
Booker has been a fierce advocate for the Gateway Program since coming to Washington in 2013, working with state and federal leaders to advance the critical infrastructure program through legislation, funding, and project development. After finding out that U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao secretly visited the Hudson River tunnels, Booker called on her to explain why her department continues to drag its feet on the critical project. Last year, at a hearing in the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, he pushed Chao on the Department's commitment to federal resources for the project and urged the timely completion of the project's environmental review. The year before, in April 2017, he urged Chao to visit the century-old rail infrastructure connecting New Jersey and New York to see firsthand the critical need for investment.
Also in 2017, Booker opposed Jeffrey Rosen's nomination as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation due to his lack of commitment to supporting funding for the project. This year, he also vocally opposed Rosen’s nomination to be U.S. Deputy Attorney General, in part, because of Rosen’s opposition to the Gateway project. Also earlier this year, he visited the Hudson tunnels with Governor Murphy and the rest of the Congressional delegation to highlight the urgency of the project.