New Jersey officials are optimistic the Gateway Program is back on track after President Joe Biden included money for the long-delayed rail project underneath the Hudson River in his $2.7 trillion infrastructure plan.
Unveiled in late March, the eight-year American Jobs Plan includes $621 billion earmarked for transportation projects nationwide, such as repairs to bridges and highways, improving road safety and modernizing public transportation systems.
U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) said he was encouraged by an April 12 meeting with President Biden in the Oval Office, whom he described as “a strong supporter of the Gateway Program” and that the administration has brought the project “one step closer to construction.” The environmental impact statement necessary to move the project along should be completed by June this year.
Payne: ‘One Step Closer’
Advancing the projects, Payne said, “is great news for the residents of northern New Jersey and all travelers in the Northeast Corridor.”
Payne added: “The Gateway Program must be the top priority of any infrastructure plan and I’m glad to see the Biden administration understands the importance of this program to our nation’s infrastructure.”
Originally proposed a decade ago, the Gateway Program seeks to improve service along one of the most heavily used passenger rail lines in the country. The plan calls for the replacement of the frequently bottlenecked Portal North Bridge over the Hackensack River, construction of a new, two-track Hudson River rail tunnel and rebuilding the existing century-old tube damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
The Obama administration had pledged support for the project, but former President Donald Trump refused to honor the deal reached between the Department of Transportation and the governors of New Jersey and New York, which was to pay for half. The Trump administration claimed the project did not qualify for federal funding and advocated for repairs only to the existing tube.
Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on March 25 that the $13 billion Hudson River Tunnel replacement and repair project between New Jersey and New York will be a priority.
“I share your sense of urgency with Gateway and related projects,” Buttigieg said. “This is a regional issue but one of national significance because if there was a failure in one of those tunnels, the entire U.S. economy would feel it.”
Sherrill: A Regional Issue
North Jersey lawmakers have put on a full court press to get full funding for the project.
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) urged the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to include Gateway in the upcoming infrastructure bill, saying, “It is my hope that this new funding from Congress, alongside the administration’s strong willingness to take Gateway to the finish line on the regulatory side, will enable us to finish this long overdue and desperately needed project.”
During an April 15 appearance before the committee, Sherrill, who has pushed for the project since being elected in 2018, said, “Gateway is not just a local or regional issue, it is critically important to the entire nation’s transportation network and economic health. The Gateway Tunnel project would modernize and improve the Northeast Corridor system and minimize the risk of potentially catastrophic failure. It would be a transformative infrastructure improvement for the nation’s busiest rail corridor.”
Gottheimer: Gateway ‘Desperately’ Needed
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) testified as well before the House Committee to push for funding for key infrastructure priorities for New Jersey, including the Gateway Program.
“We desperately need the Gateway Project to move forward, because it is critical to replace the tunnels underneath the Hudson River that connect Jersey with New York City, and because the regional economy depends on these tunnels daily,” Gottheimer stated. “These 110-year old tunnels are literally crumbling. Amtrak has said that one of the tunnels would likely have to be shut down within five years.”
Gov. Phil Murphy praised the Biden administration for taking a renewed interest in the massive infrastructure project.
“The Biden Administration’s announcement of the impending May completion date for the Hudson Tunnel project’s final environmental impact statement and record of decision is a major step towards relief for New Jersey commuters,” Murphy said.
“Our administration has fought for new and safe tunnels since 2018 and we look forward to working with our regional and federal partners to build commuting and rail infrastructure that our commuters can depend on.”
Transit Officials Weigh In
The current tunnel, which is used by Amtrak and NJ Transit, serves 200,0000 commuters daily and is a chokepoint for trains in and out of New York City’s Penn Station.
NJ Transit Chief Executive Officer Kevin Corbett called the project “critical” and said it “will directly benefit our customers with more reliable and resilient rail service in one of most congested areas of the nation.”
“The NEC’s many major tunnels and bridges—most of which are over a century old—must be replaced and upgraded to avoid devastating consequences for our transportation network and the country,” Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Bill Flynn said.