The federal government is on track to provide $6.88 billion, the most ever awarded to a mass transit project, for the construction of a second rail tunnel under the Hudson River to New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Wednesday.
Mr. Schumer, the Democratic majority leader from Brooklyn, said he intended to announce the grant in the city on Thursday. A White House aide confirmed that the Department of Transportation planned to notify the tunnel project’s sponsor, the Gateway Development Commission, of the decision this week.
The two-tube tunnel is part of Gateway, a massive infrastructure project that is widely considered the most important in the country. The new tunnel would complete a troubled pair of single-track tunnels that opened in 1910 and have steadily deteriorated since Hurricane Sandy flooded them with salt water in 2012.
The federal pledge will allow Gateway planners to begin seeking companies to build a tunnel parallel to the deteriorating ones, a project that is expected to cost more than $16 billion before it is completed in 2035. Gateway planners still hope to receive more funding from other federal . programs to raise Washington’s share of the total cost to at least half.
The governors of New York and New Jersey agreed last year on an equal sharing of the local share of the cost of building the tunnel. That agreement was a critical precursor to obtaining federal funding for the project. But a signed agreement with the federal government is not expected until early next year.
Regional transportation officials have rushed to secure a federal commitment to Gateway while President Biden is in office and Democrats have control of the Senate. Gateway is a pet project of Mr. Schumer. Mr. Biden, a longtime rider of Amtrak trains between Washington and his home state of Delaware, was a staunch supporter.
“This was the biggest hurdle, getting this very large investment from the federal government, and here it is,” Mr. Schumer said. “This is real, and that means there’s no turning back now.”
Politics aside, transportation officials say the tunnel is urgently needed because the existing tunnels need to be healed from the lingering effects of their flooding by Hurricane Sandy. Amtrak, which owns the tunnels, plans to close those tracks for repairs, one at a time, once the new tunnel is in use.
A few years ago, commuter trains arriving at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan from New Jersey were packed with passengers standing in the aisles and lobbies. The pandemic has sharply reduced the number of commuters, many of whom are not expected to return to offices five days a week. However, analysts at the Regional Planning Association forecast last year that “trans-Hudson travel demand on the heaviest travel days is likely to be at or above pre-Covid levels” when the new tunnel is completed.
If one of the existing tracks were to be closed before the new tunnel is available, train capacity between Penn Station and locations west of the Hudson would be cut by 75 percent during rush hours, according to Amtrak. Mr. Schumer and other elected officials said a cutback would sharply limit business activity along the East Coast and could devastate the U.S. economy.
“The Gateway program is a vital economic engine for New York and the nation,” Kathy Hochul, New York’s Democratic governor, said in a statement.
Philip D. Murphy, the Democratic governor of New Jersey, said in a statement that he would work with officials in Washington to secure “the remaining funding needed to complete the most urgent infrastructure project in the country.”
Siege commuters in the New York area may think they’ve heard this all before. Two decades ago, a different project to build a train tunnel under the Hudson received a $3 billion commitment from the Federal Transit Administration.
Construction of that tunnel, known as ARC, began in 2009. But a year later, Chris Christie, then the Republican governor of New Jersey, canceled the $8.7 billion project, saying his state could not afford the potential cost overruns. Later, New Jersey paid $95 million of the $271 million the federal government provided.
Kris Kolluri, chief executive of the Gateway Development Commission, said he was confident that construction of the tunnel would begin next year and that there would be no stoppage this time.
“I’ve never seen this level of cooperation,” he said. “There is no daylight between the state, local and federal partners.”
In October, the commission asked the Federal Transit Administration to provide $6.65 billion through its Capital Investment Grants program. Mr. Schumer said the grant exceeds that request by more than $200 million because construction costs are steadily rising.
Mr. Kolluri said he believes the commission’s estimated cost of $16.1 billion is sound, although the transit agency is already signaling the cost could rise to $17 billion. The commission is still awaiting a response to its request for $3.8 billion from a separate pot of federal money.