Gateway Tunnel Project, Left In Limbo During Trump Presidency, Gets Approved

This week, the Biden administration approved plans for the long-awaited Gateway Tunnel Project, which will build a new rail tunnel underneath the Hudson River linking New York and New Jersey. The $11.6 billion project—which will also repair existing, Amtrak-owned tunnels under the river—is being billed as critical to the northeast region’s economic future.

But even though Governor Andrew Cuomo praised the news on Friday, he criticized the federal government’s approach to it, which will involve building the new two-track tunnel first before repairing the existing throughways flooded during Superstorm Sandy. At a news conference Thursday, Cuomo said he would withhold funds New York would commit towards the project if the federal government takes the existing tunnels offline.

“I’m not going to pay unless it is a smart, efficient, effective process, period,” Cuomo said at the press conference. “And if the federal government wants to do stupid, they can do stupid with their money. But we’re not going to do stupid with our money.”

READ MORE: How Trump Set Back “The Most Important Infrastructure Project” In The Country

Cuomo prefers the existing tunnels stay active while they are repaired, citing the massive L train rehabilitation projectwhere the MTA initially planned to shut down the line entirely to perform the repairs. Cuomo, who controls the MTA, intervened to maintain reduced service on the line without shutting it down completely.

Tony Coscia, chair of the Amtrak board, told Politico that the rail company prefers to move forward with the original plan.

“There are very strong facts to support the position we’ve taken and in fact those facts were arrived at because of all the pushing has happened and all the debate taking place,” said Coscia.

Janno Lieber, chief development officer with the MTA, said the agency is now in talks with Amtrak to repair the tunnels “simpler and more efficiently.”

The approval of the environmental impact statement by U.S. Department of Transportation advances the early phase of the project, estimated to cost $11.6 billion. The project would build new bridges in New Jersey, and expand capacity at Penn Station by buying a city block, where the tunnels would link. Officials with Gateway Program Development Corp. will now be able to tap into a variety of federal monies to fund the project. They include funds from the American Jobs Plan, the “Northeast Corridor modernization” and $25 billion for projects of national significance. New York and New Jersey had also committed to paying for half the project.

In a statement on Friday, USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the project a “big step for the Northeast,” adding the new tunnels will “connect so many people, jobs, and businesses.”

The project had stalled significantly under President Donald Trump, with his Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao telling Congress that Trump was “concerned about the viability of this project.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said he’s primed to “use my clout as majority leader to make sure [funds] go” to the Gateway project.

The news of the project builds upon the recent advancements in transportation projects in New York, which include the construction of four Metro-North stations in the Bronx and major construction completed for the East Side Access project.