Fischer shares concern over DOT award of grants that favor Northeast project

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) joined several of her Republican members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in expressing concern that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded grants that favor Northeast Corridor rail lines over other deserving projects in the rest of the country.

In an Oct. 6 letter sent to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the senators questioned the decision behind the DOT awarding $8 billion in federal funding to the Amtrak New York-New Jersey Gateway Program despite concerns about potential cost overruns and schedule delays.

The letter highlights the project’s ballooning costs over the last decade. Based on the latest estimates from the Gateway Development Commission, the nine projects that comprise the Gateway Program will cost $37 billion over the next 15 years, the letter said. 

Grants that DOT has awarded to the Gateway Program include a grant of nearly $7 billion for the Hudson Tunnel project via a Capital Investment Grant. The senators requested the DOT provide a number of answers related to how the funding for the Hudson Tunnel project was awarded and how much could ultimately be awarded to the Gateway Program overall. 

“DOT’s lack of transparency with Congress and potential misadministration of grant programs, particularly with respect to the billions of dollars in DOT funding for the Gateway Program, are deeply concerning. We request that you rectify the inadequate responses to our past letters,” the senators wrote.

The lawmakers said the recent awards reflect an effort to prioritize the Gateway Program above other deserving projects.

“As pointed out in the April letter, DOT and FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] manipulated the massive Fed-State grant program to ensure the absolute maximum amount of funding from the 2021 infrastructure law will go to the Northeast (and Gateway), effectively depriving projects from the rest of the country of the opportunity to compete for as much as $7 billion under that program,” the letter said.

The letter asked the DOT to provide written responses to several questions within 30 days in order to assist the members in evaluating the department’s handling of taxpayer dollars and compliance with the law.

In addition to Sen. Fischer, the letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), among others. The letter was led by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).