Gateway rail tunnel reaches critical point after federal funding
Gateway rail tunnel reaches critical point after federal funding

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NEW YORK — With a check from the federal government for $6.88 billion in hand, the point of no return has finally been reached for the first phase of the Gateway project.

That’s the term Kris Kolluri used to describe the $16 billion program to build a new double-track rail tunnel under the Hudson River and rehabilitate an existing 100-year-old tunnel that was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, where equipment failures often cause devastating damage to NJ Transit and Amtrak passengers.

“History will remember those who led the effort to get us to a point of no return and those who built this project,” said Kolluri, CEO of the Gateway Development Commission, the bi-state agency that has worked over two years to unite countless agencies and leaders at all levels of government.

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These efforts resulted in early construction starting on both sides of the river last year, additional federal funding being provided, and a new organization with the expertise and structure needed to provide oversight and accountability for the nation’s largest rail project.

On a sweltering and humid Monday morning, federal, state and local transportation officials gathered to celebrate the award of the largest federal grant in the history of the U.S. Department of Transportation for what many are calling the nation’s most urgent infrastructure project.

“It took so many steps and actions to get to this hub today,” said Veronica Vanterpool, deputy commissioner of the Federal Transit Administration. “This is a transformative, generational project. The Biden-Harris administration is making an incredible investment.”

Getting to this point has been challenging. An earlier version of this project – known as ARC – was canceled in 2010 by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The current Gateway version stalled under the Trump administration. Recently, New York and New Jersey agreed to share the local costs equally.

Many thanked President Joe Biden and his administration for accelerating the project and providing significant aid through the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, which he signed in 2021.

In addition to the $6.88 billion grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program, the program received $4.8 billion from three other sources, including Amtrak and other grant programs, bringing the federal share of the project to about 70%, significantly reducing the amount paid by local taxpayers in New York and New Jersey.

“If there’s a reason we’re here today, it’s because President Joe Biden said when he was elected that this would be the most important infrastructure project in the United States of America,” said Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey. “Today is a day of investment, the largest taxpayer investment in transportation funding ever. This is a day to get back to what we say we are – a nation that invests in itself so that our nation can grow, our economy can grow.”

Although construction has already begun and further contracts are expected to be awarded during the course of the year, the new tunnel is not expected to be completed until 2035. The renovation of the old tunnel will not be completed until 2038.

That day can’t come soon enough for the tens of thousands who traverse the Northeast Corridor every day. These rail travelers are increasingly suffering from decades of underinvestment, as outdated or faulty equipment causes significant disruptions to Amtrak and NJ Transit trains attempting to enter or exit New York Penn Station.

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey asked for patience as he reminded the crowd of the real impact of this project.

“This is a turning point for the moms and dads who want to come home and have dinner with their kids or help them with their math homework,” Murphy said. “We have to think not only about the incredible numbers this can mean for this region and our two great states, but also about the lives that will be changed because of it – and that’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time.”

By Seren