Despite optimism of Hudson tunnel, officials say Trump delays added $300M to price tag

Daniel J. Munoz//March 8, 2021//

Despite optimism of Hudson tunnel, officials say Trump delays added $300M to price tag

Daniel J. Munoz//March 8, 2021//

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Despite optimism that the long-stalled $11.6 billion Hudson River tunnel can finally move forward under a Biden White House, officials at the bi-state agency overseeing the project warn that years of delays under the Republican Trump administration added more than $300 million in new costs.

That’s according to Frank Sacr, the interim executive director of the Gateway Development Commission – which is overseeing the tunnel and several other public transit projects collectively called the Gateway Project – at a remotely-held March 5 meeting.

The century-old pair of tunnels is 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.

That’s included a variety of roadblocks to obtaining federal funding, while an environmental review plan on the tunnel submitted in 2018 collected dust since then.

Under President Joe Biden, the federal government pulled back some of those hurdles, such as lifting a rule prohibiting New York and New Jersey from using federal loans to make up their own share of financing.

“The engagement that we’re seeing from the DOT and its agencies on the Hudson tunnel project are very encouraging for us,” Sacr said.

An early project with a $25 million price tag entails moving several facilities out of the Long Island Rail Road facilities that sit on the path of the tunnel where concrete casing needs to be laid down.

Steve Cohen, a New York representative and co-chair of the commission said Friday that the agency was “extremely optimistic” about the tunnel’s prospects.

But Sacr cautioned that the federal delays added another $300 million in 2020 to the total project estimate.

In order to secure a federal government, New York and New Jersey officials shaved off $1 billion in expected costs in order to alleviate concerns about cost overruns.

GCI officials swatted down suggestions from a report backed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year by London Bridge Associates suggesting the tunnels could be rehabilitated during overnights and weekends, when rail travel is lowest, rather than replacing the tunnels.

Amtrak which owns and operates that line, and NJ Transit, one of the heaviest users of the tunnels, both rejected the LBA assessment.

The New York and New Jersey Congressional delegations previously inserted funding for the tunnel in a federal spending bill, which prompted threats from then-President Donald Trump that he would shut down the government unless that spending was taken out.

Late last year, the Trump administration ponied up their half of funding – $767 million – toward the Portal North Bridge, which would replace the 110-year old existing draw bridge famous for snarling rail traffic when it becomes stuck in the open position.