Video from Governor Cuomo to President Trump Exposing the Corrosion and Damage at the Gateway Tunnel is Available Here
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo held a press briefing on his meeting with President Trump to discuss infrastructure priorities, including the Gateway Tunnel. The Governor delivered a PowerPoint on the Gateway Tunnel Project available here.
Last month, Governor Cuomo toured the Gateway Tunnel and sent a video to President Trump exposing its corrosion and damage and the need to fully fund the Gateway Tunnel Project. B-ROLL of the Governor's tour of the tunnel is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.
AUDIO of Governor Cuomo's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below.
Good afternoon. I'm joined to my left by Rick Cotton, actually Richard Cotton, which is what I learned today when I saw his professional ID. He is the head of the Port Authority. To my right is Melissa DeRosa who is the Secretary to the Governor. They accompanied me to Washington for a meeting. We met with President Trump, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Chief of Staff John Kelly was in the room. The subject was the so-called Gateway Tunnels, the two tunnels that go from New York to New Jersey. They carry Amtrak and New Jersey Transit. They're owned by Amtrak.
We discussed a number of topics, primarily around infrastructure. We discussed LaGuardia Airport and the President was very interested in LaGuardia, and the progress that we've made at LaGuardia, and the redesign of LaGuardia. And Rick Cotton, who is in charge of LaGuardia Airport and the reconstruction of LaGuardia Airport, and we discussed that. The President was interested in what is a real issue, which is the length of the runway at LaGuardia, which is a relatively short runway and has raised safety concerns before. And we discussed possible ways of lengthening that runway, which would be a very big project. In theory, once New York City vacates Rikers Island, which was supposed to have happened, you could extend a runway towards Rikers Island, but that was more on the hypothetical. The President said anyway that he could help, he would want to help.
We discussed the Penn Station situation and the progress on the Post Office train station, the Empire Station, the Moynihan Train Hall, and that that was coming along and that would actually be online. We also discussed the tunnels that we had recently redone, the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and how long it took to do those tunnels and how we did those tunnels.
And then we discussed the Gateway Project. We provided some materials to the president. The Gateway Tunnel project includes, is really the construction of an entire corridor. It's a $30 billion project because it has a number of projects that are attached, let me click ahead. This is the entire Gateway program. You can see that there are a number of bridges involved, there are track expansions involved. Two different bridges, Portal North, Portal South. Secaucus Junction and Bergen Loop. New Jersey Railyard to be built. Penn Station expansion, which is a very large project, in and of itself, it basically constructs a new Penn Station next to the existing Penn Station. So, it is a massive undertaking that needs to be done. It would provide a much accelerated corridor from Newark through New York, and it would make a great difference, and I believe in the Gateway Project.
The most urgent need, however, are the Hudson Tunnels because they have the longest lead time. If you were to start construction today, you have to complete an environmental review, you have to go to bid. If it was done in seven, eight, nine, ten years, that would be very, very fast. The remainder of the projects, you can do much faster than you can build the tunnel. So, I'm focused on the tunnels, number one from a safety point of view. Number two, if we lose one of those tunnels, just lose use of the tunnel, it will have a devastating impact and it is the long-lead item. You talk about construction projects, what's the long-lead? The long-lead item here are the tunnels. Bridges, we know how to build. Track, we know how to lay, but the environmental and the construction of a tunnel is the long-lead item. So we were focused on the long-lead items.
The design of the tunnel is something that we have discussed in the past. The tunnel comes up on the Manhattan side on the back end of Hudson Yards. The tunnels are only one piece of the overall Gateway project, but a vital piece. And then the tunnels themselves, they are inarguably in a state of decay and decline that is troubling and frightening. They're 100 years old. They were filled with saltwater from Hurricane-Superstorm Sandy. The chlorides that were deposited by the saltwater still remain. Once you immerse electric cables and metal conduits and relays in saltwater, only bad things happen afterwards. We've taken extensive efforts to try to repair, clean, fix, but just the condition is irreparable at this point. And it is only a matter of time before we have a serious mishap in one of those tunnels where we lose use of one of those tunnels.
The meeting was actually provoked by the video of the tunnels that I had sent to the president, which, these are pictures from that video. And it's just undeniable. The president has a background in construction and has a knowledge of construction and these pictures, for anyone whose familiar with construction at all, are frightening. You have slabs of the ceiling that are falling onto the track. Let alone the danger, God forbid a piece of cement falls on a train. Even if it doesn't fall on a train, falling on the track, falling on the wires, all of this is totally problematic and you're talking about one of the most critical junctures in the entire northeast corridor. One of these tunnels goes down—it's not just the commute from New Jersey to New York City, it is all the train traffic to the northeast United States. And the northeast United States is 20 percent of the nation's GDP. So this is a national issue.
New York does not own the tunnels. New Jersey does not own the tunnels. They are federally owned. My first position as Governor of New York when this issue came up was, the federal government should pay 100 percent because the federal government owns them. Amtrak owns them. We have our own tunnels that we have to pay for. The federal government should pay for their tunnel. As time went on, the state agreed—we agreed to pay 25 percent, New Jersey would pay 25 percent, and the federal government would pay 50 percent, which I think is a very generous offer on behalf of the state. But that was the topic of conversation.
The president was rightly concerned with the question of how we would do this. The president is skeptical of government construction contracts. I am skeptical of government construction contracts. Know what you do in life, know what you don't do in life, right? The most important thing to know is what you don't know. Government does not know how to build.
For those in government who take offense, I'm sorry. It is a different craft, a different trade, a different knowledge base. So, the president who is familiar with the way we did the new Tappan Zee Bridge, we were talking about that mode as modality for the construction of these tunnels. The Tappan Zee Bridge was different because government what government can do, and then we had the private sector come in. Master plan, the vision, the purpose, the function, but then let the private sector bid it, bid it internationally, get the best price, get the shortest period of time, provide an incentive for faster delivery, sanctions for late delivery. But, let the private sector do it. I said I will do these tunnels the same way. I worked with Amtrak to be charitable. I don't believe Amtrak is the best vehicle to manage this project. Amtrak is in the train operation business, that is a different business than the tunnel-boring business.
We would set up a corporation, three representatives, one from New Jersey, one from New York, one from the federal government. Let that streamlined corporation manage the entire process, let it go to bid, let's get the best bids. The only estimates we have right now have been prepared by Amtrak because Amtrak owns the tunnel. So when we say $13 billion, that's an estimate provided by Amtrak. When we say $30 billion for the overall project, that's an estimate provided by Amtrak. The president's concern and my concern is, you want me to sign on the bottom line for 25 percent of the tunnel, 50 percent of the tunnel cost for the federal government, what is the actual cost? And we are talking very large numbers here. And if it's $13 billion, I want to know that it's $13 billion and 13 doesn't become 14, doesn't become 15, doesn't become 20. So from a process point of view, streamline cooperation, go out to bid, get real bids so we know what we're really talking about in terms of financial exposure. That's the process that we spent quite a bit of time talking about. I think it's fair to say that the meeting was a positive meeting. I think it's fair to say that the president was receptive to what we were talking about and the president said that he wanted to take the next steps to find a way forward. And the next steps would include working with the federal government, primarily the Port Authority working with the federal government Department of Transportation to find out how we could get to the bidding process and give bidders the security to know that this is a project that is going and it's worth their time and investment to come up with bids so we have certainty to what the ultimate financial exposure is.
I think that is a fair characterization of the meeting. The follow-up will be done with Mr. Rick Cotton, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. But it was all positive. It was all good. The president got it. He had a surprising amount of knowledge about the infrastructure projects that we're doing in New York. Again, he has a development, construction background, so he knows these issues and he knows the questions of process and bidding and making sure the exposure is what everybody expects. So it was a very productive conversation and we'll be following up for next steps.