As U.S. secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao oversees America's roads, bridges and rail networks. Not surprisingly, then, she has some trouble explaining her boss's opposition to the single most important infrastructure project in America.
The Gateway project is a plan to build two new train tunnels from New Jersey into Manhattan. "The president is concerned about the viability of this project and the fact that New York and New Jersey have no skin in the game," she told a congressional hearing last week. "They need to step up and bear their fair share."
That's nonsense. In 2015, New York and New Jersey agreed to split the project's estimated $13 billion cost with the federal government. President Donald Trump's real reason for opposing the project, as has been widely reported, is far less noble: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has made it a priority. And since Schumer opposes much of Trump's agenda, Trump wants to punish him - no matter the cost or harm.
The current tunnels, 108 years old, carry 200,000 Amtrak and New Jersey Transit passengers into and out of Manhattan on a typical weekday. The major cities served by Amtrak's northeast corridor, from Washington to Boston, account for nearly one-fifth of the nation's GDP. Closing one or both tunnels would have a devastating impact on the region's economy.
Taxpayers, too, would take a hit: High-speed Acela riders, most of whom are traveling for business, generate $600 million in annual revenue for Amtrak, which helps subsidize service in the rest of the country. If revenues decline, service elsewhere would have to be cut - or paid for with higher federal spending.
If, on the other hand, the new tunnels are built and the old ones properly repaired, capacity into and out of Manhattan would double - a boon to the region's economy.
Amtrak estimates the tunnels have about 20 more years of life yet. Given the risk of a necessary closure before then, further delays in construction are irresponsible. The House has already allocated $900 million for the project, and the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is opposed to revisiting the issue. That's good news. Congress cannot allow Trump's personal feud with Schumer to impede national economic growth.
Politics can be a petty business, of course. And big infrastructure projects can be boondoggles, a wasteful and inefficient use of public money. This is most definitely not the case with Gateway.