President Joe Biden traveled to New York City late last month to unveil a new Mega Grant that will fund a critical early phase of the long-delayed, much-beleaguered but highly anticipated Hudson Tunnel Project. “Folks, just outside this space, the first piece of the new Hudson Tunnel is being built,” Biden said at the event. “It’s one of the biggest parts of the Gateway Program.”
The $292 million grant, via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will pay for the final section of concrete casing intended to preserve a future right-of-way for the new tunnel and to lay the groundwork for other components of the Gateway Program, which aims to expand and rebuild the rail link between New Jersey and New York through a series of projects, such as the new Portal North Bridge that broke ground last year.
The timing of this funding is critical because if the casing was not built now, the foundations from the new Hudson Yards development would likely impede the path of the new tunnel, making an already complex project even more difficult.
“Now, let me just say this at the outset: This is just the beginning – just the beginning of finally constructing a 21st century rail system that’s long, long overdue in this country,” Biden said.
The movement on the project is certainly encouraging after years and years of well-documented delays and political gridlock. The overall Hudson Tunnel Project is a more than $16 billion investment to improve and modernize the vital but fragile Northeast Corridor. It will include rehabilitating the existing North River Tunnel, which opened for service in 1910, as well as digging a new one. Officials expect that the project will result in 72,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The need for this type of project for a well-worn rail stretch – which facilitates more than 200,000 passenger trips per weekday – became more pressing because of the major damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Remnants of seawater that rushed into the tunnel during the storm continue to harm concrete, steel, tracks and other components within the tunnel, requiring regular maintenance that causes service disruption. Rehabbing the tunnel will require a full closure, which is only possible if a second tunnel is built.
The second tunnel also provides redundant capacity that officials say will reduce delays and lessen the risk of catastrophic disruption.
“The new tunnel is going to have two tubes with one track in each tube so that you can keep operating even if one side breaks down,” said Biden. “But it’s going to be safer, more resilient, more reliable and the biggest rail line in the United States of America.”
In addition to the president, the announcement featured several area leaders, including Gov. Phil Murphy and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, members of the New Jersey and New York congressional delegations, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other stakeholders.
“It is incredible to be back with the president, and I want to thank him for his continued commitment to what is unequivocally the most important infrastructure project in our country, the Gateway Program,” Murphy said. “I was honored to stand with the president, fall of ’21, on other side of the Hudson when we kicked off the work to build the new Portal North Bridge. But the tracks that will be laid on that span won’t end there. They will come through this new tunnel.”
In addition to the much-needed infrastructure improvements, the connection between New Jersey and New York, the easing of commutes and the jobs created, Murphy stressed that this project has many implications. “It’s about maintaining the strength of the entire Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C., through which so much of our nation’s economic lifeblood flows,” Murphy explained.
Buttigieg emphasized that the nation cannot lead the world in this century if it depends on infrastructure from early in the last one, joking that the current tunnel reflects the modern, state-of-the-art engineering of 1910.
The transportation secretary then gave a hat tip to the congressional delegations gathered, crediting them with making the infrastructure funding a reality. “The Mega projects fund that is going to support this portion of the project was created by that bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Buttigieg said. “And to illustrate the need that we’re working to meet across America, I want you to know how wildly competitive this first year’s funding was. We got 138 applications, and of those 138, we’re able to support nine successful project applications, including this one. The success of this application reflects the unique economic importance of this tunnel and the larger Gateway Program. It’s going to renew critical connections in this area.”
Throughout the announcement, officials took swipes at efforts by the Trump and Christie Administrations to thwart the project.
“It’s a new day. Put simply, we are tearing down the political obstacles that were put in front of this project in the past and putting up more of the funding to make sure the project succeeds in the future,” said Buttigieg. “When we do, the results will be a stronger national economy, more resilient infrastructure, and even less pollution for an entire region.”
“While others tried to shut this work down, I made clear this is a national priority,” said Biden. “And I told you that we’d get this done, and we did it together.
Sen. Bob Menendez noted just how long a road it’s been to get to this point. “It was 12 years ago – almost to the day – when I joined Amtrak officials and then-Sen. Frank Lautenberg to unveil our plan for a new railway link between the Garden State and the Empire State. Our journey since that first press conference in 2011 has been long and winding, but today, we’re getting it done,” the Democrat said. “This stretch of track is truly the economic lifeblood of our country, a region that contributes more than $3 trillion to our national GDP every year.”
As he took the stage, fellow Democratic Sen. Cory Booker described the announcement as a “hallelujah moment,” calling the project one of national significance and importance. “It is a place of promise. But for too long, this artery has been shrinking the economic strength and vitality of this region,” said Booker. “And that’s why this day is indeed a hallelujah moment.”
“After years of hard work, this is a huge win for Jersey to finally begin work on the Hudson River Tunnel project – a key step to completing the Gateway Train Tunnel,” said U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th District. “This tunnel is a top priority for the completion of the Gateway Train Tunnel, and it will help residents spend more time with their families by commuting on faster, more reliable trains, create new jobs, and ensure Jersey’s economy is stronger and safer – by removing our reliance on a more than 100-year-old tunnel plagued with bottlenecks and delays.”
Members of the Gateway Development Commission, which is facilitating and coordinating the Gateway Program, thanked all the leaders and stakeholders for their support and commitment in making this moment a reality.
“We know how important it is to get this project done, and how much of a blow it would be to the region and nation if it does not,” Alicia Glen, New York commissioner and co-chair; Balpreet Grewal-Virk, New Jersey commissioner and co-chair; and Tony Coscia, commissioner and Amtrak chair, said in a statement. “All of us who are partners in the Gateway Development Commission will continue to work in lock step with the Biden Administration so that we deliver for millions of riders.”
“We’ve been looking forward to progress on this for so long, and we are ready to work together every step of the way to get things right,” said Buttigieg.
“All told, this is one of the most consequential projects in the country,” Biden said. “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.”
“Our region and our nation can’t wait any longer. And I’ve been saying since the day I took office just over five years ago that the time for Gateway is now,” said Murphy.o