The Biden administration is clearing the way for a proposed $12 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River after the project was delayed for years during the Trump era.
Six projects, including the Gateway project between Secaucus and Manhattan, were upgraded in priority to medium-high on Jan. 20 by the Federal Transit Administration. The move could make a combined $23 billion in federal dollars available for the work.
“Well-planned, large public transportation projects can transform lives and entire regions by reducing commute times, increasing safety, opening economic opportunities, reducing emissions, and making travel more affordable,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.
The existing rail tunnel is more than a century old and in need of repair, especially after damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It serves as a critical link along the Northeast Corridor, a stretch of rail between Boston and Washington, D.C, and is used by its owners Amtrak and in New Jersey by New Jersey Transit.
Advocates warn that if the tunnel goes offline in even one direction, it could cripple the regional economy and force commuters to use other modes of transportation.
“[T]he Hudson Tunnel Project will enable a safe, comfortable commute for hundreds of thousands of Americans currently traveling through a tunnel that was built more than 110 years ago,” Buttigieg said.
Under the current financing agreement, the federal government would provide about $5.6 billion for the tunnel, while New York and New Jersey would pony up a combined $6 billion in low-interest, long-term loans. Amtrak would chip in $1.4 billion.
“We are closer than ever to securing a fairly and fully funded Gateway Program and beginning the work of delivering the safe and modern infrastructure our people and economy deserve,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement.
The tunnel had been held up for years under the Trump administration despite funding agreements put in place by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat. The FTA rated the project as medium-low, meaning it did not qualify for federal funds. The administration also said both states could not use federal loans to make up their local share of funding. Biden’s team reversed that rule.
Meanwhile, the project’s environmental impact statement was likewise held up for several years, but was approved last May.
Critics charged that Trump’s opposition to funding – and the slow-walking of the environmental review process – was political retribution against then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and Trump critic. The former president threatened in 2018 to shut down the U.S. government if the Gateway project was included in any Congressional appropriations.
“After years of politically motivated delays to derail Gateway by the former administration, I now could not ask for better federal partners,” said New Jersey U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat.
Transit officials from New York and New Jersey expect the construction on the tunnel to start in 2023.
The tunnel is one piece of the larger, $30 billion Gateway project across the New York City region. It also includes the $1.56 billion replacement of the century-old Portal North Bridge over the Hackensack River, a swing draw bridge that often becomes a choke point for one of the nation’s busiest stretches of rail. Murphy was able to secure funding for the bridge from the Trump White House in 2020.