Against all odds, the Hudson Tunnel Project has taken critical steps forward over the last few weeks and months toward finally coming to fruition. The project consists of two new tubes, each spanning 4.5 miles, as well as the rehabilitation of the 113-year-old existing North River Tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York along with the rest of the Northeast Corridor rail line.
In January, events appeared to be moving in the right direction when President Joe Biden, a long-time advocate of rail travel from his days as a U.S. senator in Delaware, announced a $292 million Mega Grant to fund a critical early phase of the project involving concrete casing to preserve future right-of-way for the new rail tunnel.
“All told, this is one of the most consequential projects in the country,” Biden said in a news conference at the West Side Rail Yard in New York. “But it’s going to take time. It’s a multibillion-dollar effort between the states and the federal government. But we finally have the money and we’re going to get it done. I promise you we’re going to get it done.”
And that promise about the funding appears to have been kept.
Earlier this month, the Biden Administration announced that it informed the Gateway Development Commission, the project’s sponsor, that the Hudson Tunnel Project had received approval to enter the engineering phase of the Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grants Program. That sets the stage for the project – which is expected to create more than 72,000 jobs in the region – to receive an up to $6.88 billion CIG Program grant, funded via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the largest federal grant awarded to a mass-transit project.
“Every day, 200,000 people pass through the North River Tunnel, and a closure affects not just the entire Northeast Corridor, but the entire country,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We are proud to announce that the Hudson River Tunnel project is entering the Engineering phase, moving us a huge step closer to finally revitalizing and expanding this century-old piece of American infrastructure.”
“The entrance of the Hudson Tunnel Project into the Engineering Phase marks the most significant milestone to date for Gateway, which has advanced further than any predecessor project,” said Gov. Phil Murphy in a statement following that grant funding announcement. “Just as importantly, this pivotal benchmark is a testament to the synergies we have forged with our regional neighbors and federal partners. Indeed, early construction work will begin this year thanks in no small part to robust federal funding and the commitment of the Biden Administration to modern, world-class infrastructure. We look forward to working with our federal partners to secure the remaining funding necessary to complete the most urgent infrastructure project in the country.”
“We are very grateful to the Biden Administration, Govs. Hochul and Murphy, Majority Leader [Charles] Schumer, our entire congressional delegation, and the GDC Board for their unwavering commitment to keep the Hudson Tunnel Project moving forward,” said Kris Kolluri, GDC chief executive officer. “Combined with the early work beginning in New York and New Jersey, the FTA’s commitment of the vast majority of federal funding for the project is an enormous step in ensuring we move quickly to create a 21st century rail experience for hundreds of thousands of passengers.”
“Today’s announcement shows what a true partnership can achieve,” said Balpreet Grewal-Virk, New Jersey commissioner and GDC co-chair. “The FTA is endorsing the work that GDC and our partners have done to assure billions in local funding, advance the project and demonstrate that we will responsibly ensure it gets built.”
Anthony Coscia, Amtrak commissioner and GDC vice chair, echoed those sentiments.
“The Hudson Tunnel Project will allow for increased reliability, redundancy, and, most important, a better passenger experience on the busiest stretch of the Northeast Corridor,” said Coscia. “Entry into Engineering is a major milestone accomplishment for the partnership between New York, New Jersey, Amtrak, and the federal government. Now, it’s time to go build.”
“This is a massive step forward for the most important infrastructure project in the country,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. “The Hudson River Tunnels entering into Engineering puts us on a direct path to receiving billions of dollars in federal funding for a project that will facilitate increased capacity along the entire Northeast Corridor – a region that accounts for 20% of the national GDP – and provide thousands of New Jerseyans who commute to New York every day with better, safer, and more reliable service.”
“This is a crucial step forward in advancing regional connectivity, supporting economic growth, and enhancing the lives of millions of commuters,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.
“FTA is proud to invest in the Hudson River Tunnel, though the CIG Program, so these rails can continue to carry millions of people and billions of dollars that help define our country’s economy every year,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez.
Federal officials said that after all financial, technical and legal requirements are completed, FTA’s anticipated funding commitment will be $6.88 billion toward the project, which is anticipated to cost north of $17 billion in total. In addition to the actual grant money, moving into this next phase also allows GDC to incur costs for engineering activities, demolition and utility relocation, property acquisition, and other non-construction costs, including procurement of specialized equipment and materials.
GDC said it expects the remainder of the federal funding to become available to the project through the roughly $4 billion in Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program, Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, and Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grants that have already been applied for. The organization said that, through those sources and others, the project is poised to have the federal funding it needs to undertake early work construction this year and major construction next year.
In addition, New Jersey, New York and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have committed to fully funding the local share of the project. For the next phase of the CIG program process, GDC and FTA will negotiate a Full Funding Grant Agreement, which is expected next year.
“This is a gamechanger. And this is overwhelmingly supported by federal money,” Murphy told Chuck Todd earlier this month on NBC’s Meet the Press. “The tunnels that exist were built in 1910 and have been damaged severely over the years. These are two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River. It’s a gamechanger for New Jersey commuters. But tragically, the project that was cancelled by my predecessor would have been open five years ago. So, we’re going to get it. But it’s sadly later than it should have been.”
Murphy acknowledged that the project would cost more money now than it would have at different points and iterations but stressed that officials have no choice.
In between these major funding announcements in January and July, there have been several other notable developments in the process to bring this project to realization fruition.
In late June, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $25 million RAISE grant for the Tonnelle Avenue Bridge and Utility Relocation Project, a key early construction component that will build an overpass and move necessary utilities to carry Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen over the alignment of the new tunnel. That project, which will mark the first early work here, is expected to commence later this year and take approximately two years to complete.
“With this $25 million grant award from U.S. DOT, the Tonnelle Avenue Gateway early work project will happen,” GDC officials said in a joint statement. “Before this year is out, there will be shovels in the ground on this project and on the Hudson Yards Concrete Casing Section 3, so work will be underway on the Hudson Tunnel Project in both New Jersey and New York. Gateway is moving rapidly from planning to reality. The award shows confidence in GDC’s growth and capability to receive federal funding.”
Procurement also was recently launched for two major components of the project, and GDC shortlisted potential Project Delivery Partners. The effort is under consideration for Federal Railroad Administration grant funds. “GDC is continuing to advance the Hudson Tunnel Project from planning to doing,” Kolluri said in May.
“They’re really starting to click this into place now,” Greg Lalevee, business manager of the International Union Operating Engineers, Local 825, which has more than 8,000 members who will be doing a lot of this work, told NJBIZ.
Lalevee had expressed optimism earlier this year about the momentum that was building for the project, and reiterated what he had told NJBIZ at that time — that there seems to be a definite plan of attack, as well as how happy his organization is to have Kolluri overseeing it, “because he’s the kind of guy who can deliver this project.”
“They really made a good choice when they put Kris in charge there,” Lalevee said. “He’s proving that out.”
“We promised that this would be the year that the Hudson Tunnel Project moves from planning to reality,” said Kolluri following a May board meeting.
“GDC is making real progress this year pushing vital components of the project forward,” Grewal-Virk said in May.
“This is just the beginning,” President Biden said in January. “It is the beginning of finally constructing a 21st century rail system that’s long overdue in this country.”