The long-delayed project to build a train tunnel under the Hudson River to New York City got a big boost from the federal government this week, a $6.88 billion grant announced by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York on Thursday.
The money pledged by the Federal Transit Administration will allow the tunnel’s planners to proceed with preliminary construction this year. They expect to begin major construction on the $17 billion project in 2024 and complete the tunnel by 2035.
The two-track tunnel would complete a pair of single-track tubes under the river that have connected Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan to New Jersey since 1910. It would effectively double the number of trains and passengers that could cross the Hudson during rush hour.
But Tony Coscia, the president of Amtrak, which owns the old tunnels and Penn Station, said the benefits will extend beyond the metropolitan area. Amtrak, he said, could run more trains along the Northeast Corridor, between Washington and Boston “without having the same bottleneck that we have now.”
What Does This Project Involve?
The tunnel would be the centerpiece of a vast project to upgrade the rail system of the New York metropolitan area. Known as Entranceit involves replacing a troubled, old bridge in New Jersey and adding tracks on both sides of the Hudson.
The main beneficiaries of the improvements would be New Jersey commuters and riders on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston. But Gateway’s supporters say that, along with creating more than 70,000 construction jobs, the project will boost the regional and national economies.
Once the new tunnel is open, Amtrak would repair the existing tubes, which have deteriorated steadily since Hurricane Sandy flooded them in 2012. If one of those tubes had to be closed before the new tunnel is finished, the number of trains that could use the remaining track during peak hours would be cut by 75 percent.
“The potential failure of one or both of the only two rail tunnels running under the Hudson River is one of the most pressing issues facing New York City right now, and that’s why I’ve worked so hard to move this project and this critical work forward. speed,” Mr. Schumer said.
Why Is It Taking So Long To Build?
Gateway is actually the second attempt at adding a rail tunnel under the Hudson. The first, known as the ARC tunnel, made it all the way to the start of construction before Chris Christie, then the Republican governor of New Jersey, stopped it in 2010.
The federal government has pledged to contribute $3 billion to ARC, but New Jersey would be responsible for any cost overruns. Mr. Christie said he feared ARC would exceed its estimated cost of $8.7 billion. If he didn’t cancel ARC, that tunnel might already be in use.
Gateway gathered political support during the administration of President Barack Obama. But after Donald J. Trump succeeded Mr. Obama, that momentum dissipated as the administration withheld the federal approvals Gateway needed.
The delays added to the estimated cost of building the tunnel. Gateway’s planners raised their estimate last year to $16.1 billion. But the transit administration is evaluating that it will cost about $17.2 billion.
President Biden, an ardent fan of Amtrak, teamed up with Mr. Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, to make Gateway a national priority. However, more than 20 years after transportation officials began drawing up plans for a modern rail tunnel under the Hudson, its arrival is at least 12 years away.
A project as complex as Gateway — which involves boring a 2.4-mile-long tunnel through rock, under water and into the heart of Manhattan — could still go wrong in many ways.
The states of New York and New Jersey have agreed to share the costs of building Gateway with the federal government, but they have not yet arranged the financing. The federal grant announced this week is dependent on all partners agreeing to pay. And then all the digging can begin.
Will It Be Worth All This Effort?
The need for another tunnel under the Hudson was more obvious before the pandemic. In 2019, commuter trains going to and from Penn Station were often so packed that conductors couldn’t go through the aisles to collect tickets.
The pandemic has sharply suppressed ridership and many of those daily commuters will continue to work from home for at least some time. But New York has regained nearly all the jobs it lost at the start of the pandemic and leisure travel and tourism are robust again. The major airports that serve New York are as busy as they’ve ever been and, Mr. Coscia said, Amtrak is carrying more than 90 percent of its pre-pandemic passenger loads.
“Gateway is about creating better mobility around New York,” Mr. Coscia said. “You cannot overestimate the value that mobility has on people’s quality of life and their ability to reach their full economic potential.”