Cost of Hudson Tunnel Project Could Hit Nearly $13 Billion, Report Says

Building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and fixing the existing one could cost nearly $13 billion — a steep increase over an earlier estimate of $7.7 billion, according to a report released on Thursday.

Transit officials are proceeding with planning for the project, which would improve a critical link between New York and New Jersey. The tunnel proposal is considered one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country, but its fate is unclear under the Trump administration.

The new report, by the Federal Railroad Administration and New Jersey Transit, evaluated the plan’s environmental and economic impacts. The study was a major step before detailed design work and construction could begin, said John D. Porcari, the interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corporation, which was created to oversee the project.

“As of today, the tunnel is moving rapidly toward construction,” Mr. Porcari said at a news conference at Pennsylvania Station in New York.

Despite his optimism, the Trump administration has not committed to providing federal financing for the tunnel, raising questions about whether it supports the project. The federal Transportation Department recently withdrew from the Gateway corporation board, saying that it did not want to appear to favor the tunnel over projects elsewhere in the country.

Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, has said that she and President Trump understand the tunnel’s importance, but the administration has proposed cutting a grant program that could have helped pay for the project. The Obama administration strongly supported building a new tunnel and had agreed to join with Amtrak to cover half of the project’s cost. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey have agreed to finance the other half.

The construction of a new tunnel could begin by fall 2019, and the tunnel could open in spring 2026, according to the report, which estimated the cost of the new tunnel at $11.1 billion. Rehabilitating the existing tunnel could cost $1.8 billion, the report said.

The century-old tunnel that Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains now use to cross the Hudson was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and has become increasingly unreliable. Local officials worry that the tunnel will continue to deteriorate, requiring major repairs that would wreak havoc on commuting in the region.

Mr. Christie canceled an earlier plan to build a tunnel under the river in 2010, after the project had already secured $3 billion in federal financing. On Thursday, business and construction groups praised the quick arrival of the environmental report and stressed the importance of building the tunnel.

Commuters who rely on Penn Station are already bracing for hardships this summer when several tracks are closed for repairs. Starting on Monday, there will be major cancellations and delays for the three railroads that share the weathered station: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road.

The Hudson tunnel plan is part of a broader series of upgrades known as the Gateway program. With higher costs projected for the tunnels, the full slate of improvements could rise to $29.1 billion, from an earlier estimate by Amtrak of $23.9 billion.

Infrastructure projects often become more expensive as the details are decided. Mr. Porcari said that any delay by federal officials in supporting the tunnel plan could cause the timeline to be pushed back and the costs to rise further.

Now that officials have chosen a route for the new tunnel, on a curve just south of the existing tunnel, they have a better sense of how much it will cost, Mr. Porcari said. The earlier figures, he said, were a “conceptual number.”

The broader Gateway program includes replacing the Portal Bridge, a century-old structure in New Jersey that frequently causes delays, and expanding Penn Station to the south with new tracks. The expansion — a key component of plans to improve service at the overburdened transit hub — would not be completed until at least 2030 and could cost more than $5.9 billion, according to Amtrak, which owns the station.

Officials will hold several public hearings to solicit feedback about the tunnel proposal from the public. The construction could affect marshes in the Meadowlands in New Jersey and bird and fish populations in the area, among other environmental concerns.

The Trump administration has signaled its support for public-private partnerships, an approach that has had mixed results. Mr. Porcari said such a partnership could work for the Hudson tunnel, though a project of its size could not move forward without some federal funds.

“Remember,” Mr. Porcari said, “the first ‘p’ in public-private partnership is public.”

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