A planned $11 billion rail tunnel seen as a key to train travel up and down the northeastern U.S. received a boost Friday with a crucial, and long sought, federal environmental approval.
The record of decision announced by the Department of Transportation means the project to build a new Hudson River tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey can push ahead with engineering and design work. The DOT’s approval also is expected to smooth the way toward the awarding of federal grants the project needs to begin construction.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there’s money in President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan that could fund the project: it would direct $85 billion to update and replace subway cars and repair aging tracks and stations. Some $25 billion of those funds would also go to expanding bus routes and rail lines.
“So we should have all the money we need,” Schumer said in an interview.
He said New York and New Jersey won’t have to provide their respective 25% shares of the tunnel’s cost for years.
“They’re working on finding an allocation,” Schumer said, referencing New York officials.
The tunnel, part of the broader Gateway project to expand rail capacity in the New York region, dates back roughly 10 years. It completed environmental studies three years ago. Stakeholders, including Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have alleged the Trump administration delayed the approval for political reasons, a charge Trump’s administration denied.
“For four years, Donald Trump in a petty, vindictive and nasty way to New York imposed lots of procedural barriers on Gateway even though we had allocated some money already,” Schumer said.
“This is a big step for the Northeast, and for the entire country, as these tunnels connect so many people, jobs and businesses,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Now we need to make sure to provide the funding America needs to deliver world-leading infrastructure in this region and in every part of the country.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called it “a significant milestone.”
The existing tunnel is more than 110 years old and prone to problems and delays due to crumbling walls and aging signals and wiring. Saltwater intrusion from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 accelerated the tunnel’s deterioration and forced Amtrak, which owns the tunnel, to embark on costly repairs to keep it functioning reliably.
Hundreds of trains and hundreds of thousands of passengers pass through the tunnel per day during normal times, and delays can ripple up and down the East Coast between Boston and Washington. Once primary construction begins, the tunnel could take as long as six or seven years to complete.
Under the Gateway project, the new tunnel would be built parallel to the existing tunnel. Once completed, the existing tunnel would be taken out of service for a complete overhaul, estimated to take as long as two years. A plan to add tracks in New York’s Penn Station to accommodate more trains when both tunnels are in service is in the early stages.