Confirming Batory, funding Gateway

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thank you all for your responses to my blogs about the kidnapped nomination of Ronald Batory to run the Federal Railroad Administration. From the tone of some of your notes, there seems to be an assumption that I am opposed to the Gateway Project. This is because some of you seem to accept that we have a choice between confirming the FRA nominee or funding Gateway. That’s a false premise.

Gateway Project would build two new tracks beneath the Hudson River, replace the ancient two-track lift bridge over the Hackensack River with two double-track flyovers and modernize Penn Station in Manhattan. Just so you know, I think it is perhaps the most compelling public works project in the U.S. It needs to be done.

Senators Schumer and Gillibrand of New York and Booker and Menendez of New Jersey did this project no good by putting a “hold” on Batory’s Senate confirmation vote. As if in reply to this childish act, the Trump administration said three weeks ago that an agreement made by former President Obama to fund the project 50-50 by the states and federal government did not have legal standing. Now we’re paralyzed on funding Gateway, neither side showing much maturity.

I have a suggestion. First, let’s decouple the confirmation vote on Batory from Gateway Project funding. Neither has anything to do with the other. No senator of either party has voiced a single objection to the man’s qualification for service. I predict a vote of 100-0. Then take up Gateway Project, but do it honestly. The New York Times had a frightening story last month about how “politically connected labor unions, construction companies and consulting firms” have turned a 3.5-mile tunnel connecting the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal into a financial scandal. Tunneling machines are manned by four times the needed number of people. And the tunnel workers, most belonging to the Laborers International Union, are paid $111 an hour in wages and benefits, twice that for overtime and quadruple that on weekends. For their part, contractors don’t care because the government pay for everything. This project is costing seven times what it would in places like France, and taxpayers are being fleeced for billions.

So my suggestion would be to honor former President Obama’s pact with New York and New Jersey. As agreed three years ago,, the feds would pay half and lend the states the other half, to be repaid with interest. But I have a stipulation. Find out what the Gateway Project would cost in Paris, the capital of perhaps the most unionized country in the developed world. I guarantee it would be less than the current $30 billion price tag for Gateway, which has grown by 50 percent the past three years. Half of whatever that number is becomes the federal government’s share. The two states are on the hook for the rest. If they cannot manage the unions and contactors but let the cost continue to spiral upward, which is how things seem to work in that part of our country, it shouldn’t be your problem or mine but those of those two states.—Fred W. Frailey

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