2015-12-02 / Front Page

Gas Tax Or Income Tax

To The Editor:
Regarding creation of the Gateway Development Corporation, just how will they manage to finance the proposed $20 billion new Hudson River Tunnel?
The original New Jersey Transit Access to the region’s core tunnel between New Jersey and New York began construction in 2009 at $8.7 billion, with a completion date of 2018. In 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie canceled the project when the estimated cost grew to $11 billion, He did not want to risk being responsible for potential billions in cost overruns above and beyond any Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Federal Department of Transportation.
Amtrak announced “the son of ARC” in 2011, known as the Gateway project. It would cost $14 billion and take 14 years to build. In 2015, the estimated cost grew to $20 billion with a revenue service date of 2030 based upon initiation of both environmental work, along with preliminary design and engineering. In the end, it is anyone’s guess how many billions the final cost will be. Same for the actual revenue service date.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claim that this is a “shovel-ready project” doesn’t add up when you look at the facts. It will take many years to complete both preliminary and final design and engineering. This is necessary before proceeding with advertising and awarding construction contracts. Only then can you proceed with placing a shovel in the ground and begin work on building the new Hudson River tunnel. Construction of any new freight, public transportation tunnel or bridge project can take years if not decades by the time all feasibility studies, environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements, construction, budgeting, identifying and securing funding is completed. All of the above is needed before the project goes into revenue service benefiting both New Jersey Transit and Northeast Corridor Amtrak riders.
United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Fox, Senators Cory Booker and Charles Schumer ($10 billion), Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York ($5 billion) and Chris Christie of New Jersey ($5 billion) all fail to identify the specific source for their financial contributions to the project. There are no significant dollars programmed in the proposed new Federal Highway Trust Fund legislation pending in Washington for Gateway.
It is wishful thinking that the federal Department of Transportation’s New Starts program and Amtrak between them can come up with $10 billion for Washington’s share of this project. There are dozens of other potential New Starts projects being championed by many of the other 98 senators and 435 congress members. The requests already far exceed any available current or future New Starts funding. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New Jersey Transit, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York City Department of Transportation and others from the Metropolitan New York region all have their own respective projects competing against each other for several billion in New Starts funding over coming years. Amtrak still needs billions to fully implement real High Speed Rail on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, New York City and Boston. This doesn’t include routine state of good repair, safety, fleet equipment replacement and upgrades to the East River Tunnels.
Cuomo has to pay back a federal loan which financed the majority of $3.9 billion for replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge. He needs several hundred million more on top of the $400 million for a new light rail system from NYC LaGuardia Airport to the Queens No. 7 Willet’s Point subway station. Plus there is $8.3 billion for shortfalls in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed $28 billion 2015 - 2019 Five Year Capital Plan. Now $5 billion more toward Gateway? Combined, all of the above would run Cuomo’s tab of unfunded transportation improvements to $16 billion!
The New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund is insolvent. Just like the MTA and Amtrak, NJ Transit needs billions more in coming years, just to reach a state of good repair. This does not include potential New Starts expansion projects for billions more. The Port Authority of NY & NJ needs $10 billion for a new 42nd St. Manhattan Bus Terminal.
Washington, New York and New Jersey all lack the courage to increase their respective gasoline tax. This is necessary to grow revenues available to support transportation. All three remind me of the cartoon character “Wimpy,” who famously said “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” When the bills become due, taxpayers will end up picking up the tab.
Larry Penner
Great Neck

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