Already years behind what transportation officials hoped for, “the Gateway Project” as it is called, seemed to be back on track last year when the departments of transportation for both New Jersey and New York agreed to split their $13 billion share of the estimated $30 billion price tag. Under President Barack Obama the federal government agreed to pay half the total cost as long as the states paid for the other half.
But federal officials under President Trump have notified both states that there appears to be no federal acceptance of an agreement.
Also putting a crimp in the deal is the fact that under a federal law passed in 2012 both states must obtain safety certification. According to a report in The Record of Hackensack, New Jersey has made progress in obtaining the certification. But New York State appears to be so far behind it might be unable to meet the April 2019 deadline.
Federal Transit Administration Director K. Jane Williams cited New York’s lack of progress in denying that an agreement is in place.
Last year, the project seemed to be full steam ahead after a series of public hearings cleared the path for it, and set a route that would go from New York City under the Hudson River, Hoboken and Weehawken and the Palisades to connect with the Frank Lautenberg Rail Station in Secaucus.
But a letter issued to both states from Williams earlier this month said no agreement between the states appeared to exist.
“We consider it unhelpful to reference a non-existent ‘agreement’ rather than directly address the responsibility for funding a local project where nine out of 10 passengers are local transit riders,” the letter said.
The tunnel proposed would be constructed in order to allow both states to do major repairs on the existing century-old tunnel which suffered significant damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Gov. Christopher Christie canceled a similar project called “The ARC Project” just after he took office in 2010, causing an extensive delay in expanding service to and from New York Penn Station.
In early January, congressional representatives from New Jersey and New York issued a letter to federal transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, hoping to clear up the misunderstanding regarding the agreement between the states.
“New Jersey and New York have committed over $5 billion to make the Gateway Project a reality,” said Rep. Donald Payne Jr., (D-10th Dist.)
The project appeared to be on track last fall when local officials broke ground on a new Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, an important link in the overall project. But the recent demurral from the new administration appears to put the desperately needed project’s future in doubt.
Obama administration supported the project
The Obama administration had agreed to share the costs of the project with New Jersey and New York.
The federal funding was supposed to come out of the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program, also known as “New Starts,” to projects which have already moved into the phase of awarding contracts. Unfortunately, the Gateway Project has yet to award contracts for digging the new tunnels or associated infrastructure work.
Construction of the 4.8-mile tunnel is the second attempt to improve New Jersey-New York rail infrastructure in the past decade.
Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) was an $8.7 billion commuter rail project to increase passenger service capacity between Secaucus Junction and Manhattan that would have included a tunnel under the Hudson River. Construction began in mid-2009, slated for completion in 2018, but Christie canceled it in 2010 after $600 million had been spent on the project, citing the possibility of cost overruns and the state’s lack of funds.
Trains from throughout the eastern region currently use a single two-tube tunnel through Hudson County called the North River Tunnel. In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy inflicted serious damage onto the 110-year old-tunnel when salt water poured into it, escalating deterioration of the tunnel itself as well as creating serious long-term problems with the electrical system.
Both Amtrak and NJ Transit service was cancelled for five days after the storm subsided. While the tunnel was restored to service and is currently safe to travel, the decay continues, and service is frequently interrupted to fix problems.
The proposed new Hudson tunnel, when complete, would allow the old tunnel to shut down for comprehensive repairs. When the original tunnel is repaired it would handle the increased demand for transportation in and out of the city.
In December, Governor-elect Phil Murphy along with U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker pressed the federal government to live up to its part of the bargain.
Murphy said the project was on top of the state’s priority list and said he would meet with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in order to clear away the hurdles that block the project.
“It’s a game changer for New Jersey and it’s a game changer for New York,” Murphy said at the time.
Since then, members of the House of Representatives, including Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Bergen County Democrat, have asked for as U.S. Transportation Department representative to take part in overseeing Gateway project.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.