April 9, 2018

Gottheimer talks Gateway, rail safety at union training site

Incumbent Democrat Josh Gottheimer took his son, Ben, way out of the 5th Congressional District to play Monday, steering big construction machinery around at the Local 825 Operating Engineers union training site in Dayton. Gottheimer drove a steam roller to flatten the terrain.

It’s a pretty good political metaphor — Gottheimer’s unopposed in the June primary and the Cook Political Report now rates his district a likely Democratic win. The metaphor also works for what Donald Trump’s doing to federal funding for the Gateway bridge and rail tunnel project to replace century-old tunnels under the Hudson. That’s why Gottheimer visited the training site, he says. These union trainees hope to build Gateway.

“If one of those tunnels goes down, it’s a $100 million a day hit to our economy,” Gottheimer said. “I think we got it unjammed a bit, and I’m optimistic it’s going to get done. There are things of course the DOT [Department of Transportation] can still get in the way on, and obviously we’ll plan it day-by-day. But there’s a lot of momentum to get this project going and we cannot afford to delay any more.”

Local 825 is 7,000-strong. It covers all of New Jersey, plus five lower Hudson counties in New York, and runs a four-year training program on heavy equipment, from backhoes to cranes. They’re frustrated by the bitter politics behind the funding battle that threatens to tank Gateway.

“That would be horrible, too, because the construction jobs and the construction support jobs, there would be literally thousands of jobs at stake with this project,” said Greg Lalevee, business manager for IUOE Local 825.

Gottheimer also has bipartisan train safety bills with votes pending in Washington this week. The legislation would improve how the Federal Railroad Administration collects data and require railroad safety regulations to be codified into law. But he’s also worried that NJ Transit already looks unlikely to meet a year-end deadline to install a highly-anticipated automatic braking feature called Positive Train Control, which the NTSB said might have helped to prevent the deadly Hoboken train crash in September 2016. Congress has already extended PTC’s deadline once.

“What I’m concerned about is that we make sure we keep the pressure on. There’s lots of waivers — if you don’t keep the pressure on these states, where we don’t meet deadlines for safety, and then you have these horrific accidents and we all look at each other and say, ‘Why isn’t that upgraded? We asked for that to be upgraded. Why didn’t it happen?’” Gottheimer said.

Gottheimer will be on the train to Washington on Monday night. The vote on railroad safety is scheduled for Tuesday.