May 31, 2019

We must build Gateway—and we will

A clear case for federal infrastructure funding

Across our country, in communities large and small, our outdated and oversubscribed infrastructure is at a breaking point, the result of years of federal underinvestment in transportation and a lack of political courage in Washington, D.C. Nowhere is that more apparent than in New York and New Jersey, where I recently got a firsthand look at the largest infrastructure project in our nation, the Gateway Program.

I was joined not only by members of Congress from New York and New Jersey who have been fierce advocates of this project for years, but also by members from other parts of the country who had heard about the project and wanted to see it up close. What we saw confirmed so much of what we had heard about the urgency of this project: A tunnel built at the turn of the 20th century is slowly failing before our eyes, putting the entire one-track-in, one-track-out system at risk. And a century-old Portal Bridge must literally stop traffic in both directions whenever it swings open to let maritime traffic through. That's akin to putting a drawbridge in the middle of Interstate 5 in my home state of Oregon.

As someone who has been fighting for years to address the deteriorating state of our nation's infrastructure and closely tracking projects around the country, I found the series of rail improvements needed along the Northeast Corridor and across New York City to be one of the most compelling examples yet of how infrastructure can make or break our nation's economic competitiveness.

Consider this: Experts estimate that if the Northeast Corridor were shut down for even just one day, it would cost our country $100 million in lost economic activity.

So this bottleneck is more than a New York or New Jersey problem. Investing in Gateway is also key to congestion mitigation along the entire Eastern Seaboard and to the nation as a whole, given the Northeast Corridor's impact on our gross domestic product. As a country, we cannot allow this vital artery of the American economy to be choked off at its busiest point.

And we won't.

As we push forward in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on legislation to make real investments in our nation's infrastructure, Gateway is precisely the kind of project for which Congress can and should provide federal support, along with other critically important infrastructure projects, from the Columbia River Crossing between Oregon and Washington to the Brent Spence Bridge project in Kentucky.

These projects and many more are of national significance. They're also smart investments, each of them creating jobs, spurring economic activity and providing the reliability, resiliency and redundancy that passengers and businesses need to function in a modern economy. Congress should be a good partner to state and local agencies by playing its role to deliver world-class projects of great benefit to the entire country.

I represent a district in Oregon that's nearly 3,000 miles from Penn Station, but I am a strong advocate for Gateway because, simply put, it's a critical project that we can't ignore. The cost of inaction is too great.

It's time to put politics aside and bury hopes that some magical, last-minute solution will appear, making this easier or less expensive. Instead, let's start digging and pay it forward for the next generation by investing in our nation's infrastructure and building crucial projects such as the Gateway tunnels and Portal Bridge. 

Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

By:  Chair Peter DeFazio
Source: Crain's New York Business