President Trump is Right to Stop the Gateway Boondoggle | Citizens Against Government Waste

President Trump is Right to Stop the Gateway Boondoggle

The WasteWatcher

The most eye-catching feature in H.R. 3354, the omnibus appropriations package, that passed the House on September 14, 2017, was a $900 million earmark for the Gateway Project, a series of “strategic rail infrastructure improvements designed to improve current services and create new capacity that will allow the doubling of passenger trains running under the Hudson River” from Newark, New Jersey, to New York City.

During the debate on H.R. 3354, Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) proposed an amendment to reduce and reallocate Gateway funding in order to allow all state projects to compete for the money.  “North Carolina and the other 48 states should not have to foot the bill for this hall of fame earmark,” said Rep. Budd, whose amendment failed by a vote of 159-260.  H.R. 3354 was not considered in the Senate.

As Congress stares down yet another funding deadline on March 23, 2018, discussion over the $900 million earmark has resurfaced.  House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who continues to prove why he earned Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) Porker of the Month title for September 2017, has been pushing hard for Gateway funding to be included in the omnibus spending package that is supposed to be considered on or before March 23. 

Rep. Budd continues to push back on this unchecked, wasteful spending, and on March 8, 2018, President Trump threatened to veto any omnibus spending package that includes the Gateway project.  If President Trump holds strong to his veto threat, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned House Republicans that the Gateway Project would not be included in an omnibus package. 

The $900 million earmark is a drop in the bucket for a comprehensive transportation project that will cost an estimated $29.5 billion, including a new tunnel under the Hudson River that was originally cancelled by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) in 2010 because it was “not a financially viable project.”  The $29.5 billion is more than double the 2011 estimate of $13.5 billion.  That amount will undoubtedly grow further, and could reach astronomical levels if the tunnel goes past New York City’s Penn Station out to Long Island (which means digging a new tunnel under the East River), as some transit proponents are recommending.

Since 1991, CAGW has exposed 110,605 earmarks in Congress totaling nearly $330 billion in pork-barrel spending.  Based off of those numbers, the average congressional earmark is $2.98 million.  The Gateway Project would be roughly 300 times more expensive than the average pork-barrel boondoggle and potentially become the most costly federal rail infrastructure project in history.

Rep. Frelinghuysen’s district is about five miles from downtown Newark and 12 miles from the site of the proposed tunnel.  His abuse of the appropriations process to benefit his home state, and many residents of his district, is unfortunately reminiscent of some of his notorious predecessors in the House and Senate, who directed billions of dollars to their states and districts for transportation projects and other boondoggles.  His end-run around the budget process to fund a cost-prohibitive local project represents a prime example of why Congress needs to enact a permanent earmark ban.

If the Gateway project is included in an omnibus spending bill, taxpayers will be served a huge portion of wasteful pork.  At that point, the result of the Gateway project will not just be digging tunnels; it may also pave the road to defeat and dig the political graves of Republicans come November 2018.