Key federal approval for Gateway Tunnel - delayed for 3 years - is coming soon

Posted May 12, 2021

After waiting three years for it, a coveted federal approval that would allow engineering to start on the long awaited Gateway Tunnels under the Hudson River is expected to be issued in two weeks.

The “Record of Decision” approval of the Environmental Impact Statement and planned route for the two new rail tunnels between New Jersey and New York is expected from the U.S. Department of Transportation on May 28, said Balpreet Grewal-Virk, Gateway Development Commission Co-Chairwoman.

“We’re moving in the right direction. I’m referring to the USDOT approving the EIS so we complete the environmental process,” she said. “The ROD will potentially allow us to move forward on multiple things, including property acquisition and other early project work.”

The new tunnels are considered critical for the regional economy to bring New Jersey workers to jobs in Manhattan on NJ Transit commuter trains. The existing 110 year-old tunnels are considered a major bottleneck on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line.

That Record of Decision was supposed to be rendered by a March 30, 2018, the deadline the U.S. Department of Transportation imposed to issue it after reviewing the Environmental Impact Statement. The EIS was submitted in February 2018.

Instead that decision stalled after former President Donald Trump opposed funding for the tunnels and a companion project to build a new Portal Bridge to carry Northeast Corridor trains across the Hackensack River in Kearny. Members of the state congressional delegation fought to keep Gateway funding in the federal budget, even when Trump threatened to shut down the government over it in 2018.

FRA officials said in 2019 the agency would be in a position to finalize the document “after resolving all concerns, including those raised in interagency reviews.” FRA officials said the average EIS completion time from start to issuing a decision is four years.

Gateway officials disputed that timeline, noting the Obama administration fast-tracked the Gateway environmental work and had an EIS completed in 22 months. On Sept. 27, 2019, the GDC put an embarrassing countdown clock on its website of how many days elapsed since the DOT’s March 30,2018 deadline.

Gateway officials said the delay ultimately increased the cost of the project due to inflation, adding $300 million to the price to build the tunnels. That cost stands at $9.8 billion for new tunnel construction, said Tony Coscia, Amtrak board chairman and GDC commissioner. Rehabilitating the 110-year old existing tunnels adds $1.8 billion, for a grand total of $11.6 billion.

“We are doing everything to maintain that number, Coscia said. “Hopefully after the ROD is issued we can advance into engineering, but there are inflationary things in the marketplace.”

It also puts the tunnel project in a better position to take advantage of applying for and obtaining federal funding, Grewal-Virk said.

Officials are looking to President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion “American Jobs” infrastructure plan for funding, through increased funds to Amtrak, and federal infrastructure loans and grants, that New Jersey and New York could apply for to use to fund the local share.

Amtrak officials said they are still working on a report detailing how much work can be done to rehabilitate the old tunnels, which was requested by former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. That request was in response to a report by London Bridge Associates said the old tunnels could be rehabilitated in phases on weekends before building new tunnels.

Amtrak officials have maintained the old tunnels have to be completely taken out of service to be gutted to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, after new tunnels are built.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-05-13 02:17:47 -0700