By Stephen Neukam
An afternoon devoted to discussion about the future of New Jersey and New York’s infrastructure unraveled at Rider as Jerry Zarro, the Chairman of the Gateway Program Development Corporation (GDC), addressed students and guests at an event hosted by The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics on Feb. 5.
The Gateway Program proposed investments into the rail system to improve efficiency and capacity for a critical section of the Northeast Corridor. The GDC is a New Jersey non-profit that was established to oversee the Gateway Program.
Zarro, a veteran of eight governors administrations in New Jersey, stressed the importance of investing in a new tunnel system to get workers from New Jersey to New York and vice versa.
“It is the single most important infrastructure project in the United States,” said Zarro. “Thirteen percent of the entire workforce of New York City goes through [the tunnel.]”
The major proposal of the GDC is the construction of a new tunnel system under the Hudson River.
The existing tunnel, which consisted of one tunnel in and one tunnel out, runs under the river. It just turned 108 years old. Zarro put this in perspective for the audience, acknowledging that the tunnel was built when the Titanic was still under construction.
Population growth and the corresponding hike in passenger volume has put unprecedented strain on the current rail system, explained Zarro. This, accompanied by extreme weather, has caused the concrete to crack, crumble and expose high voltage wires running in the walls and ceilings. Additionally, it has caused massive delays.
“[The current tunnels] weren’t designed for the traffic they have now,” said Zarro. “[Commuters] are forced to play transit roulette, betting daily on whether [those tunnels] will get them to work on time and back to their families at night.”
Zarro continued, “Politics, more so than reason, is impacting this process.”
The GDC, New Jersey and New York represenatives hold that to complete the funding for the project, cooperation from the federal government is needed. No project this large and this expensive can be done without the financial assistance from the national level, expressed Zarro.
The current proposal, similar to one that was struck down by former Governor Chris Christie in 2010, asserts that New Jersey and New York will combine to pay for half of the funding with the federal government paying the remaining 50 percent, which is about $13 billion. So far, President Donald Trump and his administration have shown no willingness to contribute that funding.
“We have applied to the federal government and we have complied with every federal requirement to get this funding,” said Zarro. “[However,] Gateway is a political pawn. It is being held hostage by the president’s administration in Washington.”
Zarro presented theories about why he thought this may be, including the idea that it is to punish New Jersey and New York voters for not supporting him in 2016 and, in all likelihood, voting against him in 2020 if he were to run.
“I just think we need someone who is more respectful and open minded [at the federal level] than Trump,” said senior global studies major Richard Nye. “Bipartisanship would be helpful.”
Despite the standoff with the federal government, Zarro remained optimistic. He cited the bipartisan support for the project in the state houses of New Jersey and New York and the fact that the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is pushing for the funding.
“The newly elected members [of Congress] are already committed to making Gateway their number one priority in Washington,” said Zarro. “When you get control [of the House], the chairmanships flip. So now, Rep. Nita Lowey [of New York] is the chairwoman of the all-powerful Appropriations Committee. They are the ones who decide what projects get what money.”
No matter the progress at the national level, Zarro insisted that the GDC would continue its work to make this proposal a reality.
“Rest assured that we’re not waiting on Washington,” said Zarro. “We’ve already started work on both sides of the river. [Governor Phil Murphy] wants to see this project done and we’re going ahead with it.”
For more information regarding the GDC and the infrastructure proposal, visit GatewayProgram.org.