WASHINGTON – Federal transportation officials have assigned the Gateway rail tunnel and other components of the massive infrastructure project a new rating that further jeopardizes the chances of winning grant money from Washington.A story on Politico.com says the Federal Transit Administration sent an annual funding report to Congress on Monday for its Capital Investment Grants Program that assigned a “Medium-Low” rating to the proposed $13 billion Hudson River tunnel, the second-lowest on a five-point scale. It was the first time the grant application had received a formal rating. The FTA also reduced the rating of the Portal Bridge North project from “Medium-High” to “Medium-Low.” That bridge replacement that would fix one of the single-greatest bottlenecks on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line.Those involved in the Gateway Program said the change was likely to put chances of receiving federal funding under the New Starts program in serious jeopardy.The Trump administration rejected an Obama-era agreement to cover half the cost of the broader $30 billion Gateway Program, which calls for constructing two new tubes connecting New Jersey to midtown Manhattan and repairing the existing tunnel that is now falling apart. The White House has also proposed ending the New Starts program, but Congress has so far protected the funding source.“In case it wasn’t clear before, President Trump today tried to land another death blow to Gateway by having his Federal Transit Administration (FTA) vindictively and inexplicably downgrade the project in order to cut off critical federal funding,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement on Monday.In the case of the Portal Bridge project, which previously received a rating in February 2017 and was estimated to cost $1.6 billion, the FTA is taking the position that the amount of committed or budgeted funding from other sources had fallen from 57 percent to 21 percent of the total cost. The FTA said that is a primary reason the rating was reduced. The new ratings were issued in November and, according to a person familiar with the Gateway application, did not factor in any information received in October, when new details had become available.John D. Porcari, the interim executive director of Gateway Program Development Corp., said the ratings fail to take into account the commitments from New York and New Jersey. The states have agreed to split half the cost of the tunnel project, putting up $5.5 billion, though they’ll need federal loans in order to do so. The grant application asks the federal government to cover the remaining costs.Porcari said the Portal Bridge application, in which local agencies would also cover about half the total cost, “has only been improved with each updated submittal” since the first rating was issued. He noted early construction work has been underway for several months.“We are surprised and disappointed by the sudden downgrade based on what appears to be changing evaluation criteria,” Porcari said. “We continue to work closely with USDOT to strengthen our funding applications and remain confident that the merits of the projects warrant significant federal investment.”
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Job counts up slightly in October, jobless rate unchanged at 5.2%Montpelier (November 21, 2008) — The Vermont Department of Labor announced today that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October 2008 was 5.2% percent, unchanged from the revised September rate and up 1.3 points from a year ago.”Though our employment and job numbers looked relatively good in October we believe that the impact is temporary,” said Patricia Moulton Powden, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Labor. “The increases we saw in seasonally adjusted employment and jobs may have been due to our surveys capturing a favorable foliage season. Never-the-less we welcome the stability in our unemployment rate in an environment where our national rate grew four-tenths of a point.”Job GrowthBefore seasonal adjustment, Total Non-Farm jobs grew by 2,000 or 0.6% from September to October. Despite this growth, Total Non-Farm jobs remains down by 0.3%, or about 900 jobs, over the year. The largest monthly gainers in October were Local Education (+1,750 or 7.6%), Retail Trade (+500 or 1.3%) and Accommodations (+400 or 4.3%). On an annual basis Healthcare & Social Assistance is the only sector showing significant job growth (+950 or 2.1%). The Manufacturing and Construction sectors have contracted by 750 and 950 jobs respectively over the year.When seasonally adjusted, job levels increased by 500 or 0.2% over September, but still lag a year ago by 900 or -0.3%. Leisure & Hospitality was primarily responsible for the job gain over the month, (+800 jobs or 2.5%). We believe this to be a temporary phenomenon caused by our sample capturing the impact of a favorable foliage season whereas in most years it does not.Employment GrowthVermont’s observed seasonally adjusted monthly changes in labor force and employment were statistically significant and greater than September values, but unemployment levels and rates were not. For comparison purposes, the US seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August was 6.5 percent, up four-tenths of a point form September 2008. Unemployment rates for Vermont’s 17 labor market areas ranged from 2.8 percent in Hartford to 6.2 percent in Newport. Local labor market area unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted. For comparison, the unadjusted unemployment rate for Vermont was 4.6 percent, down three-tenths of a point from September 2008 and up 1.3 points from a year ago.