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Gateway Tunnel Project Needs Funding to Move Forward: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao

No part of the Gateway Tunnel project will not move forward until the Federal Transit Administration upgrades its rating of the project, according the Transportation Secretary.

Under questioning from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) at the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao stated the required environmental impact statement (EIS) will not move forward until the funding element is approved for the Hudson Rail Tunnel.

“The emphasis on the EIS is misplaced,” stated Chao. “The larger issue is whether the Hudson Tunnel is available for (Capital Improvement Grant) funding, which it is not.”

Low Rating

Earlier this year, while the Federal Transit Administration announced it upgraded its rating to medium-high for the Portal North Bridge replacement project, it maintained a medium-low rating for construction of a new Hudson River rail tunnel. 

“That’s news to people who work on this,” said Murphy.

Chao said the department is prioritizing the repair and rehabilitation of the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in the currently used North Tunnel and considers it a separate issue from the Hudson Rail Tunnel. 

“We need to address the repair portion of the existing tunnel,” Chao said. “That’s totally separate from expanding the capacity.”

Urgent Repairs

Repairs would begin much earlier than waiting for the new Gateway tubes to be built, which Chao said is 7-10 years away. The department and Amtrak are working with engineers from Cornell and Columbia universities to see if they can use the same process New York state developed for its Canarsie line running while making repairs to its tunnels.

All the news was not negative for the Gateway project. The Department of Transportation published the Environmental Assessment for the replacement of the Sawtooth Bridges in Kearny. The bridge replacement, which carries NJ Transit (NJT) and Amtrak trains including the Morris and Essex Lines to Hoboken, would double the tracks in that area to four.  

In a joint statement, NJT and Amtrak applaud the publishing the of the environmental assessment for replacement of the Sawtooth Bridges.

“These critical spans were built in 1907 and are in urgent need of replacement and expansion, which will increase reliability and ultimately assist in eliminating a major bottleneck in the busiest section of the Northeast Corridor,” the statement said. 

More Needed

Sen. Bob Menendez lauded the Sawtooth project approval, citing it as a key component of the Gateway Project to repair aging infrastructure and eliminating a bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor. 

But he wants more done.

“While you need tires and a steering wheel to operate a car, that car isn’t going anywhere without an engine, and the Hudson River tunnel is the engine that drives Gateway,” said Menendez. “Yet, DOT continues to invent new reasons to withhold approval of an EIS that’s been sitting on the Secretary’s desk for two years to stall construction of a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel.”

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