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How to rebuild N.Y.: The president and governor need to get strategic, right away

2019-08-27

A subway construction worker, known as a "sandhog" exits the tunnel boring machine in the northbound tunnel of the Second Avenue subway construction project, Thursday, April 7, 2011 in New York. (Mary Altaffer/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The presidential tweet, unsurprisingly, came as a surprise. So did its constructive tone: There was Donald Trump proclaiming himself “looking forward to helping New York City and Governor @andrewcuomo complete the long anticipated, and partially built, Second Avenue Subway.”

Good. The MTA needs federal cash to complement the half-billion dollars set aside for design and preliminary construction in this year’s budget to bring the subway line up from 96th St., where it now ends, to 125th St. If Trump follows through, his support could help grease the skids.

But with hundreds of billions of dollars of urgent infrastructure needs — better energy systems, storm-surge barriers, a long-neglected Hudson freight-rail tunnel and one much-discussed over-designed commuter project — the president and governor, Queens boys both, need to communicate, prioritize and plan not through scattershot tweets and bewildered press releases but via consistent, strategic engagement.

The most important place to focus minds is on the project now getting Jersey politicians all riled up: Gateway, Amtrak’s moniker for its elaborate, grossly overpriced $30-billion-plus mix of tunnels, bridges and stations.

The pressing imperative is to fix the Sandy-waterlogged tubes under the Hudson. From where we sit, the most promising way to do that is to consider following the lead of the MTA’s L-train shutdown-that-wasn’t: Repair tunnels on weekends, while putting the cables now encased in bench walls onto elevated racks to prevent corrosion.

A related need, one that’ll happen far faster and more cost-effectively if the Gateway fetishists stop digging and get real, is a new Hudson River commuter tunnel that actually adds capacity for the millions who travel back and forth. Now pegged at $9.5 billion, it’s too costly and still uses outdated bench walls.

If planned well, it deserves substantial federal support.

Enough impulsive announcements from the White House. Enough wishful thinking from local folk. Build Gateway the right way.