The United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration on Feb. 16 rescinded a Trump-era rule decried as an obstacle for securing funding toward the Hudson River Gateway tunnel.
Proponents argue the tunnel is critical for linking the economies of New York and New Jersey, which make up a sizable share of the nation’s economy.
The century-old pair of tunnels are a key juncture in the heavily-traveled Northeast Corridor, and following heavy damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 risk needing emergency repairs that could take either of them offline and cripple the New York City area’s transit system.
Plans call for the addition of two new tunnels, at which point the existing ones would be deactivated for repairs. Former President Donald Trump was accused of stalling the project while in office in order to gain political leverage over Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democratic senator from New York.
State transportation officials have expressed optimism that the project could finally get the green light under President Joe Biden.
In January, the now-Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told lawmakers on Capitol Hill during his confirmation hearing that he wants to finally “move forward” on the tunnel.
Under the Feb. 16 decision rolled out by the Federal Transit Administration, state governments like in New Jersey and New York can rely on federal loans to make up their share of the 50% of funding for the $13 billion project.
Both states planned to use federal loans to make up their $5.5 billion share, and the 2018 decision scored a major blow in any plans for the tunnel.
“The Trump Administration pulled this ridiculous policy out of thin air in order to delay and derail the Gateway Project,” Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez said in a Feb. 16 statement.
That year, then-Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao decried the two states as not having any “skin in the game.” Other bureaucratic hold-ups that came up during the Trump years, which still need to be resolved, are the long-stalled environmental review.
Another key project – collectively part of the regional multibillion-dollar “Gateway project” – calls for the replacement of a swing drawbridge which typically gets stuck in the open position, snarling up rail traffic along the Northeast Corridor for hours on end.
In mid-January, Trump and Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the feds would commit their share of funding for the bridge replacement: $766 million, in order to construct a new version which will be raised much higher over the Hackensack River.