New York’s Commitment to Gateway Project Unclear As Urgency Grows

After years of delay and a broken promise from the Trump administration, the Gateway Project to build a new Hudson River train tunnel and repair the existing, Sandy-damaged one is poised to move forward with federal support from both President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. But as an August deadline looms to confirm local funding commitments, it’s now Governor Cuomo who could be holding up the 10-year, $11 billion tunnel project because he has yet to agree to New York’s share.

In order for the Gateway Project to move forward from its current planning phase to engineering, the federal government must obtain detailed funding commitments from New York for $1.7 billion, New Jersey for $1.9 billion, and the Port Authority for $2.7 billion. Governor Murphy of New Jersey and the Port Authority appear to support the project.

At a meeting Monday, in which representatives from both states and the Port Authority convened, Gateway Development Corporation Chairman Steven Cohen dismissed concerns that Cuomo would withhold New York’s share of funding. Cohen said he was confident that New York, New Jersey, and the Port Authority would finalize their funding commitments, and send those documents to federal officials by the August 27th deadline.

“I’ve been directed by [Governor Cuomo’s] office to move forward as rapidly as possible,” Cohen said, “to get an agreement and commitment among the parties.”

Cuomo, however, has thrown cold water on the latest tunnel repair plan, repeatedly citing expedited work on the MTA’s Carnarsie tunnel repairs as a possible model for Gateway. During that work on the L train tunnel, the governor’s own panel of experts recommended doing the repairs on nights and weekends instead of shutting down the entire tube for repairs. He also suggested that the Gateway project didn’t have to replace the entire concrete benchwall in the Hudson River tunnels and could hang the power cables from the walls, as was done in the L train tunnel.

Experts found that none of Cuomo’s suggestions were feasible for Gateway. The project’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from May, which was submitted to the federal government, looked into it.

“Based on the specific engineering requirements for rehabilitating the North River Tunnel, the tunnel’s heavy train volumes throughout the day, and the lack of alternative rail access from west of the Hudson River, these in-service approaches to rehabilitation cannot be reliably conducted without material delays to commuter and intercity rail service,” the document notes.

The section of the document that looks at how the L train tunnel project hung cables found a similar method wouldn’t work in the Hudson River tunnels because they serve Amtrak and NJ Transit which draw more power than the subways.

“The North River Tunnel includes more cables and conduits than the Canarsie Tunnel, including high-voltage feeder cables that must be protected from fire and impact, and therefore racking all the cables in the North River Tunnel, as was done for the Canarsie Tunnel, would not be appropriate,” the EIS reads.

Cuomo, for his part, has a $306 billion plan for redeveloping midtown and expanding Penn Station. The plan assumes the Gateway Project’s newly-built tunnels will be sending more trains into Penn Station. But it also requires using eminent domain and could face major hurdles.

Organizers of the Gateway project noted Monday the ongoing urgency to move the project forward. Despite a dip in ridership on Amtrak and NJ Transit during the pandemic, ridership is recovering faster than expected, and there’s been an increase in delays due to the tunnel’s deteriorating condition. There were 54 days of delays in 2020 due to things like electrical and track issues, while in the first three months of this year, there have already been 10 days of delays that lasted 100 minutes or longer.

“Currently, we’re living in a world of unacceptable delay and risk,” Cohen said. “It affects people’s lives, and it affects overall the economic condition of the entire region and I’d argue the entire country.”

The governor’s office didn’t respond to questions about whether he will support the current Gateway Project as it is now and allow it to move forward.