Hudson River rail tunnel gets green light from federal authorities to start construction

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A major and final bureaucratic hurdle was removed by the Gateway Tunnel project after the US Army Corps Of Engineers issued a permit to allow construction of the tunnel and tracks through the Meadowlands and under the Hudson River.

The permit was announced Wednesday morning that allows construction of the $ 12.3 billion project to build two new tunnels and rehabilitate existing 111-year-old tunnels to begin in the summer of 2023, once funding is secured.

The permits are the “last major federal approval” needed to make the 2023 construction start date more realistic for skeptical commuters, some who wondered if they would ever live to see it built.

The Federal infrastructure permit dashboard shows a big check mark that the Hudson Tunnel project has obtained all federal and environmental permits. Amtrak and NJ Transit were co-applicants for the US Army Corps of Engineers permit.

“The Gateway project having received permit approval means commuters in the region are taking one step closer to faster and more reliable rail service,” said Zoe Baldwin, New Jersey director, Regional Plan Association. “This is a big step in the right direction and shows the federal government’s commitment to moving this essential project forward. We now need a better financial rating from the Federal Transit Administration as soon as possible to keep the momentum going. “

The tunnel increases capacity allowing more trains to be sent to and from Penn Station, opening access to NJ Transit lines that do not go to New York. The tunnels are a key part of the upgrades to Amtrak’s bullet train and Northeast Corridor. It would put an end to delays due to infrastructure problems with the old tunnels built in 1910.

“This milestone brings us very close to the start of construction on the Hudson Tunnel project, which is part of the nation’s largest critical infrastructure effort,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the Biden administration, New York, Amtrak and our congressional delegation to bring the entire Gateway program to fruition.”

Last month Gateway Development Company Officials have said federal funding for the construction of the $ 12.3 billion Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River could be in place by the end of 2022, with construction starting in the summer of 2023.

Governor Kathy Hochul said the tunnel was important to the economic vitality of New York City, which produces 20% of the country’s gross domestic product.

“The Gateway project will help support the economic prosperity of New York and the rest of the country for years to come, which is why we need to do this project well and move it forward,” she said in a statement.

Construction of new tunnels and rehabilitation of existing tunnels are expected to be completed in 2035, GDC officials said in November.

“The rapid pace of federal approvals signals not only the tremendous coordination between various government agencies at the federal and state levels, but also the prioritization of the Hudson Tunnel project and its expected impact on the economic well-being of the Northeast Corridor and of the whole nation, ”said Tony Coscia, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Amtrak.

The cost is $ 10.1 billion to build new tunnels and $ 2.2 billion to rehabilitate old tunnels, for a total of $ 12.3 billion. But officials at Gateway Development Corp have warned that delays in the project increase the cost due to inflation.

But funding remains the next major hurdle. The project classification must be noted by the Federal Transit Administration to be eligible for federal grants. The tunnel project had received a low rating under the Trump administration, preventing it from qualifying for federal funding.

Railroad and other infrastructure loans that would include New Jersey and New York’s share of the project must also be applied for and approved.

States have received a boost from recent changes to these programs which allow loans to be repaid over 75 years, taking into account the lifespan of major rail infrastructure projects, instead of an initial payback period of 35 years.

A “letter of interest” to initiate the loan application process for approximately $ 6 billion in infrastructure loans is being prepared and could be submitted in the coming months,

The permits mark a year of major progress for the Gateway project. In May, the project to expand and rehabilitate the two 110-year-old tunnels with two new ones received a long-awaited environmental approval that will bring New York and New Jersey closer to their construction after a three-year delay from a promised date 2018.

Amtrak officials maintained that the old tunnels had to be completely decommissioned to be emptied to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, after new tunnels were built.

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].


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