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Trump reveals little about fate of NYC infrastructure projects in new interview

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But he did boast about knowing the NYC subway “very well”

Among the myriad policy proposals that the Trump administration has said it wants to implement is a $1 trillion infrastructure plan (which has yet to materialize), aimed at improving the country’s ailing roads, rails, and airports. And in an interview with the New York Times, Trump himself elaborated on his administration’s plans for infrastructure.

Well … sort of. While Trump discussed his desire to accelerate the $1 trillion package, he didn’t provide much information on which specific projects would receive funding or special attention, or how it would be put in place, beyond a brief mention of public-private partnerships.

Of particular interest to New Yorkers are two projects that stand to greatly impact how we get around in the coming years: the Second Avenue Subway’s second phase, and the Gateway Tunnel project, aimed at improving aging rail infrastructure between New York and New Jersey.

Documents obtained by two McClatchy newspapers in January suggested that those projects were among 50 priority improvements shortlisted by the administration for funding, though the administration denied the authenticity of the list.

The administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget, meanwhile, would bring massive cuts to urban infrastructure funding and could impede progress on both of those projects. The Gateway Project, for instance, relies on funding from the New Starts grant program, which is likely to be eliminated if that budget passes.

In the Times interview, Trump did not say much about those projects, beyond noting that, “I may support them, I’m going to look at them.” He did, however, elaborate (very slightly) on his plans for a commission to oversee the implementation of that package, which may be made up of big-name real estate developers such as Richard LeFrak and Vornado’s Steve Roth. “I’m setting up a commission of very smart people that know how to spend money properly,” he said. “We’re going to have representatives from various parts of the country that are all are very, very successful in terms of infrastructure.”

Vornado does indeed have experience in the sort of public-private partnership that the Trump administration is exploring for its infrastructure plans: It’s one of the firms behind the forthcoming Penn Station renovation, which it’s undertaking along with Related and Skanska. Those firms will work with the Empire State Development Corporation and the MTA, along with Amtrak, on the $3 billion overhaul of the train station.

But while the interview was short on specifics re: major NYC projects, it did provide some… interesting nuggets of insight into Trump’s familiarity with the current state of New York City infrastructure, including the Second Avenue Subway (which he called “the tunnel to nowhere,” and incorrectly stated cost $12 billion to build—phase one cost $4 billion, and phase two is projected at $6 billion currently), and the subway itself, which he says he hasn’t taken “in a long time” (though he still claims to “understand the subway very well”).

And then there’s this:

TRUMP: It’s been a long time. It’s been a long time. It has been. I know the subway system very well. I used to take it to Kew-Forest School, in Forest Hills, when I lived in Queens. And I’d take the subway to school. Seems a long time ago —

[Cross talk.]

TRUMP: I’d take it from Jamaica, 179th Street. Jamaica, right? To Forest Hills. I understand the subway very well. I used to ride between the cars.

HABERMAN: Did your parents tell you not to do that?

TRUMP: They weren’t thrilled when they heard that.

Which led to this:

That, at least, is a sentiment most New Yorkers can probably get behind.

One of the big questions regarding the $1 trillion plan is when it might happen, and whether Democrats in Congress will support it. Trump seems confident on the latter, at least, and said that infrastructure spending could be tacked on to another bill in an attempt to garner bipartisan support for contentious issues like healthcare or tax reform.

“We want to do a great infrastructure plan, and on that side I will say that we’re going to have, I believe, tremendous Democrat support,” he said. “We are also going to have some good Republican support, and I think it’s going to be one of the very bipartisan bills and it’s going to happen.”

While Democrats are indeed interested in infrastructure improvements—even going so far as to propose their own $1 trillion plan—recent statements by members of Congress, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer, suggest that they may not be willing to play ball with Trump. Schumer told the Times that “[Trump] hasn’t put out anything specific yet,” and that Senate Democrats would be unlikely to support a bill that includes large tax breaks for developers.

A senior Trump administration official, meanwhile, confirmed to the Times that $200 billion to $300 billion of the trillion-dollar plan would come from public funding, with the rest coming from the same tax credits that Democrats oppose.