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New Phase of Gateway Tunnel Project in Hudson River to Begin


By Patrick McGeehan, The New York Times

Published Nov. 3, 2023


Construction of the long-delayed rail tunnel under the Hudson River is about to speed up, as the project gets an additional $3.8 billion in federal funding.


Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, announced the latest grant on Friday, just before he and Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, proclaimed that work would start this month on the next phase of the $16.1 billion tunnel known as the Gateway project.


The new, early phase of the project involves building a concrete casing on Manhattan’s West Side for trains to pass through under Hudson Yards, between the river’s edge and Pennsylvania Station.


On the New Jersey side of the river, work is also scheduled to begin this month on the realignment of a highway so that the digging of the tunnel can start. Plans laid out by the project’s sponsor, the Gateway Development Commission, call for two giant boring machines to grind their way through the Palisades cliff, under the river and into the Manhattan bedrock.


That is the route commuter trains will eventually take, ascending through the concrete casing to platforms at Penn Station.


Digging is expected to begin in 2025. The new tunnel is scheduled to open 10 years later.


On Friday, Mr. Buttigieg called the tunnel project “the largest and most significant infrastructure project” in the nation and likened it to “cathedrals of our infrastructure,” such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam.


The plan to build a tunnel between the station and New Jersey has been a political football for more than 15 years. But with the enthusiastic support of the Biden administration, Mr. Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, has lined up more than $10 billion in federal funds for the tunnel, which Mr. Buttigieg has called a national priority.


“With so much money already there, there’s virtually no chance it won’t be completed,” Mr. Schumer said on Thursday.


Commuters in the metropolitan region may remain dubious, considering the project’s history. Work had begun on a different Hudson River tunnel project before Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor at the time and a current Republican candidate for president, halted it 13 years ago.


Had that project proceeded then, a new tunnel would most likely have been in use by now, relieving pressure on the existing tunnels, which are more than 110 years old.


The two one-track tubes are in such poor condition that trains running into and out of the city are often delayed by signal failures and problems with the overhead wires that provide power to their engines.


The addition of the two-track Gateway tunnel would allow the old tunnels to be rehabilitated, but construction is expected to take more than a decade after years of delays during former President Donald J. Trump’s term.


Gateway is a favorite project of Mr. Schumer’s, but it has also received a great deal of attention from the Biden administration.


Mr. Buttigieg toured the old tunnels two years ago and declared his support for  supplementing them with the Gateway project. Mr. Biden appeared in Midtown in January to announce that the federal government would provide $292 million for the concrete casing that is about to be built, hailing it as the “beginning of finally constructing a 21st-century rail system.”


Nine months later, that money is being put to work. But it is a small fraction of the federal money Gateway has received.


Earlier this year, Mr. Schumer announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation would provide $6.88 billion for the project. The latest award raises the federal contribution to more than $11 billion, or about 70 percent of the  total estimated cost of construction. New York and New Jersey have agreed to split the remaining balance.


“This is unheard-of,” Mr. Schumer said on Friday. “But I’m the majority leader, this is New York and we go big.”


Kris Kolluri, the Gateway Development Commission’s chief executive, said the additional federal funds would cut the two states’ obligations by more than half, sharply reducing the amount in bonds they would have to issue.


“What this means is it fundamentally changes the financial burdens on the states,” Mr. Kolluri said. “The states will not have to borrow as much, so their cost of financing is going down.”


The commission and the states must still reach a formal agreement with the federal government on the details of funding Gateway. That document is expected to be completed next year.

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