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Schumer Continues Call For More Transportation Money From Feds

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., walks to the chamber after meeting with new senators from his caucus, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite
Associated Press
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., walks to the chamber after meeting with new senators from his caucus, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told transportation advocates in his home state of New York on Monday that he will continue to push for a $1.5 trillion federal infrastructure bill.

Schumer said the legislation would include money to ensure New Yorkers have equitable access to sustainable transportation systems.

He said that means revamping decades-old commuter railroads that funnel into New York City from its suburbs.

“The benefits go far beyond New York to our national economy. And that's why we need a national investment in health and well being of New York's mass transit,” Schumer said. "If New York goes down… We’re 10% of the GDP. If we don't do well, the rest of the country doesn't do well. And without mass transit, we can't do well.”

The infrastructure bill would include the redevelopment of the 111-year-old Gateway tunnels under the Hudson River. The project has been delayed because of funding shortfalls and lack of federal approvals.

Schumer blamed former Trump administration officials from blocking $12 billion set aside for the Gateway project. He said he’s confident that the Biden administration and incoming U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg will release those funds.

“If they go under before we build new tunnels, can you imagine?” Schumer said. “There's no way to get under the Hudson that not only kills New York, it kills the whole Boston to Washington corridor, Amtrak and everybody else. So we gotta get that money.”

The Senate leader also wants to provide additional relief to the state’s cash-strapped transit systems where ridership plummeted during the pandemic.

Last year, he secured nearly $8 billion in federal coronavirus relief for New York transportation. And the latest economic stimulus package that was released earlier this month included $8 billion for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, $1 billion for Amtrak and $500 million for Long Island airports at LaGuardia and Kennedy.

The MTA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are allowed to borrow money from the Federal Reserve to stem pandemic-related losses.

“The MTA said it's not going to undertake any service cuts or layoffs related to responding to the COVID crisis,” Schumer said.

Starting Monday, the Long Island Rail Road cut its service by 10% in response to reduced ridership during the pandemic. However, the reduction was already effectively in place at the onset of COVID-19.

The MTA said the change for rush hour commuters aligns more closely with current ridership levels. The LIRR has seen a 75% decline in passengers since the COVID-19 outbreak.

The planned service cuts will also allow crews to complete more track work.

The LIRR is expected to prevent overcrowding by adding more train cars, and installing sensors that can track the weight of the cars. Officials encourage riders to purchase tickets on the LIRR TrainTime app, instead of in-person kiosks.

Some transportation advocates have criticized whether digital ticketing for transit systems is accessible for seniors, low-income communities and people with disabilities. Transportation advocates also discussed ways for Schumer to incentivize riders to safely return to public transportation to reduce the impact individual vehicles have on the environment.

They said more affordable options for eligible commuters should be prioritized.

“We have lots of work to still do to ensure we don't just help transit survive, but that we truly build a perspective and a system that thrives so that we can move towards a shared recovery that is equitable, that is sustainable, and that is prosperous for all,” said Betsy Plum, executive director of the New York Riders Alliance.

Schumer said new legislation that is being drafted before March includes $20 billion for mass transit, “of which the MTA will get a very, very good good chunk.”

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.