Volume 17 • Issue 3 | June 11 - 17, 2004

Speaker Hastert backs money for Downtown rail

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express file photo by Elisabeth Robert

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, in the foreground at right, came to New York in September 2002 with Vice President Cheney and other Congressional leaders for a special session of Congress Downtown at Federal Hall.

The speaker of the House said Monday that he thought Congress would approve additional 9/11-related money to fund Lower Manhattan transportation projects.

Asked by Downtown Express if he thought there would be more aid beyond the federal $21.4 billion package for New York, Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House of Representatives, said: “I think there will be some more. Some of that is for transportation.”

The governor, mayor, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and Downtown business leaders have begun to lobby Congress for more money for a link connecting Lower Manhattan to J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road. The group’s preferred option, a new East River tunnel, would cost $6 billion and would also allow for the E train and a proposed Second Ave. subway line to continue into Brooklyn.

Hastert spoke to Downtown Express briefly on June 7 at a Tavern on the Green party celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rubenstein Associates public relations firm. Hastert, a Republican who represents northern Illinois including some suburbs of Chicago, did not say how much more money he thought Congress would approve.

Bill Rudin, president of Rudin Management, was happy to learn that a House leader expressed support for the rail link. “That’s a great comment,” Rudin said. “Coming from the speaker, that’s very important.”

Rudin and others have argued that the rail link is vital to securing Lower Manhattan’s financial future. Some community groups are opposed to the link because they say the more pressing needs are for affordable housing and job training programs. Community Board 1 has endorsed the idea of the train connection although board members, in a resolution a few months ago, said that the remaining $1 billion in L.M.D.C.-controlled money should be spent on amenities like housing, parks, schools and community centers before it is used for the link.

Kevin Rampe, L.M.D.C. president, said the Congressional lobbying effort is focused on transferring an estimated $2.5 billion in unused 9/11 tax breaks to the rail link and officials may look for more federal transportation money once that effort is resolved. He declined to comment on whether he had spoken to Hastert about the project.

The Port Authority, which controls the area’s airports and owns the W.T.C. site, has committed $560 million to the J.F.K.-L.I.R.R link. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have said they will help fund part of the project and Madelyn Wils, an L.M.D.C. board member, said a few weeks ago that the M.T.A. may be able to spend $400 million -$500 million. Wils suggested shifting the $900 million set aside for a West St. vehicular tunnel, which is opposed by many residents, to the airport connection. If you also include the possible $2.5 billion tax shift money and $250 million already set aside for the link in the Downtown federal transportation budget, it would put the total close to $5 billion for the link — $1 billion short of the goal.

Gov. George Pataki has said on various occasions that the L.M.D.C. would contribute a significant amount, that he hoped the P.A. would kick in more and that he thought President Bush would push for more money beyond the $21.4 billion package for New York.

The second option for the link is to use the existing M,R subway tunnel at a cost of $3.5 billion - $4.5 billion, but the benefits are limited since it would only shorten the ride for Long Island commuters by about six minutes, according to initial estimates. A new tunnel would cut 15 minutes off commuting times and put airport travelers Downtown in about 36 minutes.

Pataki, in a May speech before the Association for a Better New York, said the leaders of four firms — Rudin, Ken Chenault of American Express, Tom Reyni of the Bank of New York and Stan O’Neal of Merrill Lynch — would lead the lobbying effort in Congress. Rudin, also chairperson of ABNY, said the effort is just beginning.

Rudin was also at the Rubenstein party but said he didn’t get a chance to speak with Hastert. During his remarks to the audience, Hastert praised New York for bouncing back after the terrorist attack.

John Feehery, a spokesperson for Hastert, said later that the speaker came to New York for the Rubenstein celebration and did not mention much in the way of lobbying efforts. “He was just fascinated by the wide variety of people there,” Feehery said. “Everyone from Yogi Berra to the two senators from New York.”


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