Keep up with essential planning news and commentary, delivered to your inbox every Monday and Thursday.
Breaking: Congressional Compromise Reached to Fund Amtrak Gateway Program
The still-tentative deal could offer an end-run around President Donald Trump, who had vowed to veto the spending bill if it included a $900 million earmark sought by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other New York and New Jersey lawmakers.
The $540 million would not go directly to the project but would be kept out of the hands of the federal Department of Transportation according to the sources, neither of whom was authorized to speak publicly.
That's important because Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has not spoken favorably about the project, or more specifically, on its financing, rejecting a decision reached by the prior administration with the states of New York, New Jersey, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Under the terms agreed to by congressional leaders — who are said to be closing in on a final, $1.3 trillion spending bill — most of the $540 million would be provided to Amtrak for upgrades on the Northeast Corridor, according to one of the sources.
In addition, the omnibus spending bill also directs "$2.9 billion in discretionary grants to U.S. DOT that could be used to fund a portion of Gateway, the sources said."
Rubinstein and Hutchins note that replacing the century-old, swing-span Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, a $1.7 billion project, is even more pressing. Both projects are part of the massive $30 billion Gateway Program, vital for maintaining, and ultimately improving, Amtrak's Northeast Corridor train service, as well as northeast regional commuter rail service.
Congress must pass the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, designed to keep the government funded through September, before Saturday. It then goes to the president. A veto would likely mean that basic governmental services would shut down this weekend.