With Washington having reached a tentative bipartisan deal on a $1.2 trillion nationwide infrastructure plan, the Biden administration said it would pledge full support for the $11.6 billion Hudson River tunnel replacement and repairs, which stalled under the Trump administration.
“The impact of this corridor if there was a loss of service, if one of these tunnels were to go out of service, you would be feeling the economic impact all the way back in Indiana,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during a June 28 press conference at Penn Station in New York City.
Buttigieg’s comments followed a tour of the tunnels on June 28 along with the New York and New Jersey congressional delegation, where he said the tunnel is “of critical importance” and warned that repairs and maintenance had been dangerously ignored for years.
The tunnel is a vital juncture for the Northeast Corridor, which stretches from Washington, D.C. to Boston, and is one of the world’s most heavily traveled stretches of railway. Hundreds of thousands of commuters and hundreds of trains from Amtrak and New Jersey Transit used the Hudson tunnel in pre-COVID times.
But at more than a century old and sustaining heavy damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the tunnels are in dire need of repair.
The price tag stands at $9.8 billion for the new tunnels and $1.8 billion to repair the existing tunnels. According to the White House, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure project calls for the federal government to allocate $66 billion to passenger and freight rail, $49 billion to public transit and $109 billion to roads, bridges and other major infrastructure projects.
Whichever version of the infrastructure package is signed into law would have federal funding for the tunnel, according to U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from the affluent and transit-reliant Union County.
“We’re going to look at the federal dollars and make sure they’re used in the right way,” Buttigieg said, assuring that the Biden administration would work to “tear down any unnecessary bureaucracy” that might have been employed under Trump to block the tunnel.
Under the current plan, the federal government would pay for 50% of the costs of the tunnel, while New Jersey and New York would split the other half. In 2010, citing cost overruns, then-Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, scuttled plans for the ARC tunnel to replace the existing tunnel.
That was the plan outlined between New Jersey, New York and the Obama administration, but those efforts came to a halt once President Donald Trump took office in 2018.
Under Trump, the federal government repeatedly blocked funding and slow-walked approval of the environmental impact statement, which was only approved this past May.
“The block has been removed,” Sen. Cory Booker said during the Penn Station appearance.”It is a new day and we are moving full speed ahead to get this project done.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said he wanted construction to start as soon as next year, up from the planned 2023 construction date. It could take between six and seven years to complete.
But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a press conference last May, indicated that he would not be willing to foot the Empire State’s half of the bill unless the Biden team agreed to pay for key Manhattan transit projects.
“I’m not going to pay unless it is a smart efficient effective process, period,” Cuomo said last month. “And if the federal government wants to do stupid, they can do stupid with their money. But we’re not going to do stupid with our money.”
Projects in New York City – like those owned by the Port Authority – and others in New Jersey will all have to compete for federal dollars.