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N.Y., N.J. Lawmakers Scramble For Backup Plan After Trump 2020 Budget Cuts Money From Gateway Project Fund

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A crisis intervention meeting was held on Capitol Hill on Tuesday as New York and New Jersey senators craft a new strategy for getting federal funds for the critically needed new Gateway rail tunnels under the Hudson River.

It came a day after President Donald Trump again spurned the stalled project in his new budget, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported.

The pictures showed the tension. Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer with his head in his hands and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez looking grim as they strategized with Gateway Project leaders about how to counter the president's latest attempt to siphon federal funds from the project to rebuild 100-year old storm-damaged tunnels under the Hudson.

Gateway Project
The North River tunnel is more than 100 years old. (Photo: CBS2)

Schumer said the president is, "trying to use the Gateway tunnel for political ransom. That's outrageous."

MORESen. Schumer Comes Up With "Work-Around" Plan That Could Fund Desperately Needed Gateway Project

The lawmakers are furious that the president's proposed 2020 budget calls for slashing hundreds of millions of dollars for Gateway.

"The president's budget, as far as we're concerned, as it relates certainly to transportation is dead on arrival," Menendez said.

The main Gateway fund was cut from $650 million to $325 million, but that's just the beginning.

"Every single provision that could help Gateway have been dramatically cut by the administration," Menendez said.

MORECongressmen Gottheimer, King Call For "Doomsday" Plan In Event Of North River Tunnel Failure

And a federal transportation official said if New York and New Jersey want Gateway they will have to pay for the $13 billion project themselves.

The plan hatched by the delegation, which included representatives from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, calls for the creation of a contingency plan if the president continues to block Gateway. The delegation would slip a line in the appropriations bill that will have the two states advance the funds.

"The legislation says that they would automatically be repaid, and under a new president they would," Schumer said.

The officials have not given up trying to convince the president, who after all is from New York, of the importance of Gateway, which services 220,000 daily riders on 450 NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak trains between New York and New Jersey.

Officials said if they have to close just one tunnel for repairs trains crossing the river would drop by 75 percent, from 24 trains an hour to just six.

MOREGov. Cuomo Tours Gateway Tunnel Damaged By Superstorm Sandy

"One weather event this October or November again could potentially cripple our region. This is a national security issue," New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said.

The White House did not respond to CBS2's request for comment. Cuomo, who met with Trump about Gateway, said the president is cutting funds for the project to punish local voters for not supporting him.

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