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New Congress Will Move On Transportation

by Gotham Gazette Staff, Nov 14, 2006
 

The election of a new governor and the Democrat's takeover of both the House and Senate bode well for funding of transportation projects in New York City. The bottom line is that New Yorkers can seriously talk about not only the two megaprojects that are furthest along in obtaining critical federal funding -- the Second Avenue subway and linking the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal -- but also a second set of projects whose prospects have been less luminous.

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THE SENATE: SCHUMER GAINS POWER

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While it was expected that the Democrats would likely take control of the House, adding Senate control by even the one-vote margin that the Democrats gained adds considerably to the influence of New York in the new Congress next January. Senator Charles Schumer headed the Democratic Senate fundraising committee and brought in $23 million more than his Republican rivals. As New York Magazine pointed out, the Democrats taking over the Senate "was all Chuck." And as Schumer himself said in the New York Times, "Now when I say to one of my colleagues, New York needs something, or I need something, they'll be more amenable." Schumer, who has strongly supported funding for transportation projects as well as homeland security, will thus be in a enhanced position to secure funding for top transportation projects such as the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access (the LIRR connection to Grand Central), which recently won a full-funding agreement from the Federal Transit Administration that will cover about 40% of the project's construction costs. The project is now expected to be completed by 2013.

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Construction on the first leg of Second Avenue Subway is expected to begin later this year. The $3.8 billion first phase that includes stations 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets is funded and will be completed in 2013. Schumer's influence will be essential to obtain federal funding to continue the new line the length of Second Avenue to downtown Manhattan .

Schumer has also been a strong supporter of a new Hudson River rail tunnel to double the number of trains coming from New Jersey into Penn Station. The $6 billion two-track tunnel has gained Port Authority and New Jersey Transit funding but will need federal monies as well.

THE HOUSE: NADLER'S FREIGHT TUNNEL

On the House side, Representative Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) becomes the top-ranking Northeast Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Nadler has long championed a cross-harbor freight tunnel between Brooklyn and either New Jersey or Staten Island. The freight tunnel is intended to reduce truck traffic into the city, reducing both congestion and air pollution from trucks. The City's Economic Development Corporation produced a draft environmental impact statement in 2004. In 2005, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg withdrew his support for the tunnel. The new governor, Eliot Spitzer, has only urged further study of the project. But with Nadler gaining a more influential position in Washington, he can return a greater focus to the freight tunnel.

Democratic control of Congress also means that Spitzer may have an easier time making good on his transportation priorities. If he chooses to endorse the controversial rail link between JFK airport and lower Manhattan , he may have an easier time getting Congress to allow unused Liberty Bonds to be converted for the purpose. Spitzer might also be able to get those funds used for other purposes if he can gain the support of Schumer and others to do so.

Bruce Schaller, who has been in charge of the transportation topic page since its inception in 1999, is head of Schaller Consulting, which provides research and analysis about transportation. He is also a Visiting Scholar at the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University. 


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