The Biden administration is paving the way for a $12 billion rail tunnel project 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, have been priority update to medium-high on January 20 by the Federal Transit Administration. The move could make a total of $23 billion in federal dollars available for the work.
“Large, well-planned public transport projects can transform lives and entire regions by reducing travel times, increasing safety, opening up economic opportunities, reducing emissions and making travel more affordable,” said US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement.
The existing railroad tunnel is over a century old and in need of repairs, especially after damage from Super Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It serves as a vital link along the Northeast Corridor, a stretch of rail between Boston and Washington, DC, and is used by its owners Amtrak and in New Jersey by New Jersey Transit.
Advocates warn that if the tunnel disconnects in even one direction, it could cripple the regional economy and force commuters to use other modes of transport.
“[T]he Hudson Tunnel project will provide a safe and comfortable ride for hundreds of thousands of Americans currently traveling through a tunnel that was built more than 110 years ago,” Buttigieg said.
Under the current funding agreement, the federal government would provide about $5.6 billion for the tunnel, while New York and New Jersey would disburse $6 billion in long-term, low-interest loans. Amtrak would pay $1.4 billion.
“We are closer than ever to getting an equitably and fully funded gateway program and starting to deliver the safe, modern infrastructure that our people and our economy deserve,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement.
The tunnel had been blocked 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 was ineligible for federal funds. The administration also said the two states could not use federal loans to offset their local share of funding. Biden’s team has reversed this rule.
Meanwhile, the project’s environmental impact statement was also delayed for several years, but was approved last May.
Critics have accused Trump’s opposition to the funding — and the slow environmental review process — of political retaliation against then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and critic of Trump. The former president threatened in 2018 to shut down the US government if the Gateway project was included in congressional appropriations.
“After years of politically motivated delays to derail Gateway by the former administration, I couldn’t ask for better federal partners,” said U.S. Senator from New Jersey Robert Menendez, a Democrat.
New York and New Jersey transit officials expect construction of the tunnel to begin in 2023.
The tunnel is a component of the larger $30 billion Gateway project in the New York area. It also includes the $1.56 billion replacement of the century-old Portal North Bridge over the Hackensack River, a swinging drawbridge that often becomes a choke point for one of the nation’s busiest rail stretches. Murphy was able to secure funding for the Trump White House Bridge in 2020.