Feds clear the way for Gateway Tunnel project to get billions in funding

Published: Jan. 20, 2022

The final hurdle needed to qualify for federal funding to start building the $12.3 billion Gateway rail Tunnel was cleared Thursday when the Federal Transit Administration raised its rating of the project.

FTA officials announced the tunnel project’s rating had been raised to “medium-high,” meaning that the Hudson River Tunnels are eligible to move forward in the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program process to access federal funding for the project.

“This is a major step towards completing the nation’s most important transportation project, which will modernize our rail infrastructure, get commuters to work, and keep our economy moving forward,” said U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ.

Federal funding could be as much as $5.6 billion, or approximately 44% of the projects cost to build two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River and rehabilitate the existing 111-year old tunnels. Amtrak would fund $1.4 billion and also has purchased Manhattan property needed for the project. The state governments of New Jersey and New York would fund up to $6 billion, through low interest, long-term railroad infrastructure loans.

“The day many commuters never thought they’d ever see is finally coming. 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,” said Gov. Phil Murphy in a statement.

Murphy, a fellow Democrat, thanked President Joe Biden, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and “our Congressional delegation led by Senators Menendez and (Cory) Booker for making Gateway a priority so we can make it a reality.”

The FTA had previously rated the tunnel project medium-low, meaning it did not qualify for federal grants. The new rating came after an evaluation of a financial plan released in August. by the GDC and Port Authority, FTA officials said. Gateway must complete several CIG program requirements before the project is eligible to advance into the next phase of the CIG process, which is entry into Engineering, FTA officials said.

Gateway was one of six projects re-rated by the FTA and was name checked by U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg in the announcement.

“The 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,” he said.

Gateway officials praised the FTA’s announcement, pledging to “work hard with our Federal partners to meet the requirements of the grant so we can get to a Full Funding Grant Agreement rapidly, and move to full construction that finally stops the delays that are costing our commuters and travelers thousands of hours in lost time and the nation billions in productivity.”

The tunnels did not receive a ranking in the proposed 2022 Federal Transit Administration budget as a candidate for $5.5 billion in New Starts grant funds because the project was “under review.” One reason is that the GDC formed in March and was “expected to transition into the project sponsor to lead the project, which may affect project details that influence the rating,” officials said.

“I am thrilled to see this project moving forward in the CIG program process,” said U.S Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-NJ “The Hudson River tunnels and the broader Gateway Project will provide a crucial replacement of a century-old tunnel system – one that New Jersey’s commuters cannot do without.”

Last month, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority agreed to negotiate with the state about the Authority making the state’s estimated $81 million annual payment for Gateway loans after completion.

The tunnels are used by 450 NJ Transit and Amtrak trains a day. If one tunnel had to be shut down, it could strand 60% of the New Jersey workforce that commutes to New York by rail and have economic repercussions, supporters said.

“This is great news for our region and the nation, especially North Jersey commuters,” said Passaic County Commissioner John W. Bartlett, Chair of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. “The FTA’s decision reflects what New Jerseyans have known for years: the Hudson Tunnel project and the rest of the Gateway Program are essential transportation investments.”

Amtrak officials warned in October 2014 that due to damage from flood waters driven by Hurricane Sandy, the tunnels needed to be shut down and gutted.

“Our region’s commuters and travelers deserve to cross under the Hudson River with confidence, and know that they will get to their destination on time, and more importantly, back home to their families on time too,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. “Adding state-of-the-art tunnel capacity to reduce delays and improve safety is exactly what they need. Finally and mercifully, we are closer than ever to our goal.”

But local officials had also accused the Trump administration of playing politics in the tunnel rating.

The New Jersey and New York congressional delegation kept funding for Gateway in the federal budget, even after then President Donald Trump threatened to shut down the government over the issue in 2018. In 2020, Trump’s opposition to the tunnels eased after he announced federal grants would help fund an allied project to replace the Portal Bridge that carried the Northeast Corridor rail line over the Hackensack River.

“For years, I have worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure this vital infrastructure project gets the federal investment it deserves and am glad to see this announcement from the FTA, which will allow construction to commence and create jobs for our state’s residents,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker.

Questions also were raised by Trump administration officials if rehabilitation of the existing tunnels could be expedited using a process similar to what the MTA used to rehab subway tunnels that had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

In November, Gateway Development Corporation officials said they hoped federal financing to build the tunnel could be in place by the end of 2022 which could allow a 2023 construction start.

Gateway got a boost in February 2021 when the FTA said it would allow states to use U.S. government loans to cover their share of a project, making it eligible for federal funding.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-21 03:25:50 -0800