Congressmen seek 'doomsday' plan in case of Penn Station rail tunnel failure

NEW YORK -- Two congressmen announced Monday they are filing legislation to force federal rail authorities to issue a contingency plan in the event the century-old tunnel between New Jersey and New York has a major failure, the latest attempt to gain traction for a project to build a new passage under the Hudson River.

The push for the Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration to produce a "doomsday" plan is borne of frustration among supporters of the $13 billion tunnel, part of the Gateway project. They think the Trump administration blocked funding for the project because of political squabbles with Democrats, particularly New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

The administration downgraded the plan last year, making it ineligible for some federal grants, based on its assessment that both states weren't putting up enough money, a contention the project's supporters dispute.

Roughly 200,000 rail passengers pass through the tunnel's two tubes each day. The tunnel is a regular chokepoint on the northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., and suffered saltwater damage during Superstorm Sandy that prompted Amtrak to predict one or both tubes could need to be shut for repairs in the next decade or so.

"This is being slow-walked by the DOT," New York Rep. Peter King, a Republican, said Monday at Penn Station. King and Democratic New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer said they hope the legislation will bring more attention to a project that received support from the Obama administration but has met with resistance since President Donald Trump took office.

The rail administration didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Monday.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has noted that New York and New Jersey are among the wealthiest states in the country and expressed concern that funding the project would take away from others.

Without a new tunnel, experts say shutting just one tube would reduce peak service by 75 percent and create crushing delays for already beleaguered commuters. They have estimated if the entire tunnel were to close for one day, it would cost nearly $100 million in lost economic activity and productivity.

Gottheimer said he was confident the bill would pass the Democrat-led House and was hopeful it would pass the Republican-led Senate.

"It's just saying, 'OK, what's your plan?'" he said. "Just give us a plan. Because they must know something we don't know. We think this will actually just keep ratcheting up the pressure to get it done."

Last week, Schumer said he plans to propose legislation to break the funding impasse by allowing New Jersey and New York to advance money to get construction started and require the federal government to reimburse them, rather than continuing to wait for federal dollars.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo toured the tunnel last fall and met with Trump to push for funding, and most of New Jersey's congressional delegation took a tour of the tunnel in January.

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