Gateway tunnel construction likely to start in 2023, transit officials say

Daniel J. Munoz//November 17, 2021//

Gateway tunnel construction likely to start in 2023, transit officials say

Daniel J. Munoz//November 17, 2021//

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Transportation officials said they expect construction on the $12 billion Hudson River rail tunnel to start  in 2023, now that funding is all but certain following the enactment of the landmark $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package.

“With the dollars and loan benefits available in the federal infrastructure bill and the analysis of underground conditions we are undertaking, the project is taking big steps toward the start of full construction,” said Balpreet Grewal-Virk, co-chair and the New Jersey commissioner for the Gateway Development Commission, in a Nov. 16 statement. GDC is overseeing the $30 billion Gateway project.

That project includes the $1.56 billion replacement of the century-old Portal North Bridge over the Hackensack River, a swing draw bridge which often becomes a choke point for one of the nation’s busiest stretches of rail.

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.

Critics charged that then-President Donald 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 North River Tunnel.
The North River Tunnel. – AMTRAK

Like the bridge, the tunnel is more than a century old and in dire need of repair, especially after damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Both are critical links in the Northeast Corridor, a stretch of rail between Boston and Washington, D.C. It’s 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.

“When it works, the Northeast Corridor fully functions. People get to work on time. Our economy moves forward,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during President Joe Biden’s visit to New Jersey in October. “When it doesn’t, the Northeast Corridor, the people it carries, and all the economic activity it supports, comes to a screeching halt.”

“Over the recent past, that’s happened more and more often.”

Under the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package Biden signed Nov. 15, Amtrak is getting $30 billion for NEC improvements, and $11 billion in other grants.

U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, in a statement, said the bill essentially assures that the tunnel will finally move forward and that it will be financed.

“As President Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law today, New Jerseyans can expect to see billions of dollars for our state’s infrastructure – from repairing roads and bridges, to replacing lead pipes and cleaning Superfund Sites, and advancing the Gateway Project,” added Sen. Cory Booker at a press conference this Monday, hours before Biden approved the bill.

The state could get an estimated $12.3 billion for all those infrastructure projects, according to the offices of Booker and Sen. Robert Menendez, both Democrats.