A plan to construct two new tunnels beneath the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey took a major step forward last week.
President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 trillion federal spending bill on Friday, fending off the threat of another government shutdown and indirectly funding the construction of the interstate infrastructure in the process. The completion of the new tunnels, which are umbrellaed under the $30 billion Gateway Program, is considered by transit experts “the highest infrastructure priority for the nation.” Those new connections would double the train capacity beneath the Hudson River and would provide some relief for the existing North River Tunnels, which date back to 1910 and were severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The spending bill allocates $650 million to Amtrak for repairs on its Northeast Corridor, and the company plans to commit at least $388 million of that funding directly to Gateway projects, according to Bloomberg. An additional $153 million in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants are also set to go toward the program, and another $2.9 billion will be available in discretionary federal grants, which NJ Transit, the Port Authority and Amtrak can apply for.
The approved spending bill comes less than three months after a letter from the FTA put the fate of the entire project up in the air. After the Obama administration committed the federal government to provide half of the funding for the $12.7 billion first phase of the Gateway Program, the new administration reneged on the deal, claiming that the entire plan was reliant on federal assistance.
In a press release that followed approval of the new spending package in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) stated that the bill “removes preferential treatment for the New York and New Jersey Gateway projects, including complete removal of all language that earmarked or advantaged these local transit projects in earlier versions considered by Congress.”
But even though the bill does not specifically name the Gateway Program as a recipient for funding, it still funnels at least $550 million toward its completion.
Off the bat, the new money will help push forward the replacement of the Portal Bridge, a century-old pass over the Hackensack River that made headlines earlier this month when it was stuck suspended for several hours during rush hour, gumming up the commutes of tens of thousands of riders.
“This will allow for some immediate relief for people passing over a bridge that’s 107 years old every day,” says Dani Simons, a vice president at the Regional Plan Association (RPA) and one of the most salient advocates for the Gateway Program.
The Build Gateway Now Coalition, of which the RPA is a founding member, issued its own statement on the spending bill that all but contradicted the one put out by the USDOT.
“The inclusion of funding available for the project is a testament both to its importance to the national economy as well as the incredible show of bipartisanship from Congressional leaders and members of our New York and New Jersey delegations,” the statement said. “We look forward to working closely with the USDOT to advance the construction of the first phase of this project over the coming months.”
The two new Hudson River tunnels will still require further environmental studies and federal sign-off, and supporters are hoping that crews can start construction on them in 2019, with an estimated completion date of spring 2026.