Gateway gets 'medium-high' FTA rating, one step closer to funding and construction

The project aimed at improving the decrepit, century-old tunnels that shuttle commuters back and forth under the Hudson River has been upgraded to a “medium-high” priority by the Federal Transit Administration.

This new ranking makes the $12.3 billion project eligible for federal funding in the Capital Investment Grants program and is the first of many steps needed to get this long-awaited and mammoth project off the ground. It was previously ranked "medium-low" by former President Donald Trump's administration.

“Well-planned, large public transportation projects can transform lives and entire regions by reducing commute times, increasing safety, opening economic opportunities, reducing emissions, and making travel more affordable,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement announcing the change. “The Hudson Tunnel Project will enable a safe, comfortable commute for hundreds of thousands of Americans currently traveling through a tunnel that was built more than 110 years ago.”

An aerial image looking south down Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen where a new tunnel will be built for trains to enter New York City as a part of the Gateway program. Photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.
An aerial image looking south down Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen where a new tunnel will be built for trains to enter New York City as a part of the Gateway program. Photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

The project partners, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, NJ Transit, Amtrak, New York and New Jersey, according to the FTA announcement, "must complete several CIG program requirements before the project is eligible to advance into the next phase of the CIG process, which is entry into Engineering."

Five other projects received new or updated ratings along with the Hudson tunnel proposal.

"The day many commuters never thought they’d ever see is finally coming," Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. "We are closer than ever to securing a fairly and fully funded Gateway Program and beginning the work of delivering the safe and modern infrastructure our people and economy deserve."

A lengthy process

During former President Barack Obama's administration, the Gateway project was developed to replace the ARC plan vetoed by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2010.

Gateway is a collection of more than $30 billion in projects to expand and improve rail capacity under the Hudson River and through New York Penn Station and to upgrade the most trafficked and troublesome portion of the Northeast Corridor. The first phase would rehabilitate the 112-year-old tunnels rapidly deteriorating from Superstorm Sandy and build two new tunnels to increase the number of trains that can enter and exit Penn Station. Amtrak and NJ Transit trains use the tunnels.

In 2018, the Trump administration assigned the tunnel project a “medium-low” ranking, the second-lowest on a scale of five. The FTA said the low grade was due to concerns about how much money New York and New Jersey were committing for the project and where the local share would come from.

The Portal North Bridge project, a $1.6 billion plan to replace the 112-year-old swing-span bridge that has a history of getting stuck and clogging trains on the Northeast Corridor for hours, was downgraded in 2018. But it received a new rating in 2020. The first span of that bridge is expected to open in 2025, with full completion estimated for 2027.

Thursday’s announcement comes on the first anniversary of President Joe Biden’s installation in the Oval Office. Biden, who campaigned on his love of Amtrak and the need for major infrastructure investments, and his administration accelerated the grant application for this project, which some have deemed the most urgent infrastructure project in the country.

Biden visited the construction site of the Portal Bridge replacement in October, weeks after NJ Transit awarded the contract to Skanska.

The financing plan for Gateway’s first phase requests nearly $5.5 billion in federal funds, about 44% of the total project cost. Amtrak committed nearly $1.3 billion, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will chip in $2.1 billion, and the remaining $3.35 billion would be split using state funds from New York and New Jersey.

Controversy has brewed in recent years about whether the Gateway cost is justified, and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed alternative methods to rehabilitate and replace the tunnels.

Despite that, the board of commissioners in the newly created Gateway Development Commission, a bistate agency that will oversee the construction and spending on the project, applauded this step. The commissioners represent Amtrak, New York and New Jersey.

"We’ll continue to work hard with our federal partners to meet the requirements of the grant so we can get to a Full Funding Grant Agreement rapidly, and move to full construction that finally stops the delays that are costing our commuters and travelers thousands of hours in lost time and the nation billions in productivity," a statement from the commissioners said.

Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


Twitter: @colleenallreds

This article originally appeared on Gateway tunnel project gets 'medium-high' rating from the FTA