Biden administration approves crucial part of Gateway project

Trains are parked at the Hudson Yards site following a press conference in Manhattan. | Mario Tama / Getty Images



NEW YORK – The Biden administration has approved the environmental impact assessment for the Hudson Tunnel project, marking a major milestone in the Gateway program’s multi-year effort to repair tunnels damaged by Super Storm Sandy and increase rail capacity between New York and New Jersey.

The move will allow officials in New York and New Jersey behind the $ 11.6 billion tunnel project to move forward with pre-construction activities such as property acquisition, l federal engineering and design development. This will also allow project stakeholders to apply for federal funding, which has not been allocated to date.

“This is a big step for the Northeast and for the whole country, because these tunnels connect so many people, jobs and businesses,” Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Now we need to make sure we provide the funding America needs to provide world-class infrastructure in this region and in all parts of the country. “

The project, which supporters say is crucial to the economic future of the Northeast region, has been stuck in limbo for years. Gateway officials first submitted a draft environmental impact assessment in February 2018, but it never gained federal approval under the Trump administration. He was delayed by President Donald Trump’s animosity towards current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer amid negotiations to fund a wall along the border with Mexico.

The project had a second wind under the Biden administration, more favorable to public transport. Buttigieg pledged in March to complete the environmental impact study before the end of the second quarter. Schumer, one of the main promoters of the project, compared the renewed federal commitment to free the project to a “hostage” situation.

“It’s vital for New York’s future and it was vindictive, mean and mean for Trump to block it and now we are moving forward,” Schumer told POLITICO. “This is probably the most important public works project in America. If these tunnels break down and cannot be used, 25% of our economy will be at risk from Boston to Washington. ”

Schumer said there was “more than enough money to make the project happen,” with Biden’s proposed budget increasing two sources of funding that could go to Gateway. The budget will allocate $ 1.3 billion to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, up from $ 700 million, and $ 2.5 billion for Federal Transit Administration capital grants, he said.

Biden’s proposed infrastructure package also allocates $ 25 billion for “transit expansion” and $ 39 billion for “northeast corridor upgrades” – both of which can be leveraged by Gateway officials. , said Schumer. There is also $ 25 billion proposed for the Transformational Infrastructure Projects Fund.

Despite Friday’s bullish response, although there has been public discord over exactly how to move the project forward as recently as this week.

As currently designed, Gateway officials would first build a new tunnel under the Hudson River – adding two lanes at Penn Station – before starting repairs on existing crossings that were damaged by Super Storm Sandy . When completed, the four tracks would provide additional rail capacity and redundancy.

But last December, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo touted a report that existing tunnels under the Hudson River could be repaired without taking them out of service. On Thursday, Cuomo again asked federal officials to consider the approach and threatened to withhold funds otherwise – referring to how New York City managed to repair the L-Train subway tunnel in service at his request.

“I’m not going to pay unless it’s an efficient and smart process, period,” Cuomo said at a press conference Thursday. “And if the federal government wants to mess around, it can mess around with its money. But we are not going to mess around with our money.

“We’re going back to the L-train tunnel and I’ve resisted the bureaucracy and the meanness there, and I’m going to do the same with the Amtrak folks again,” Cuomo added, referring to a decision by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which it controls effectively.

In a press call on Friday, Gateway officials downplayed the idea that Cuomo’s comments could threaten the project and expressed their commitment to ensuring its profitability.

Steve Cohen, a Cuomo-appointed person who chairs the Gateway Program Development Corp., said Cuomo’s recent remarks show why he “is the greatest infrastructure governor in the country and maybe for the past 75 years.” .

“He’s blunt, straightforward and he wants to get things done,” Cohen said. “And he wants to do them efficiently – he wants to adopt new technologies and new techniques.”

Still, Amtrak officials have said they prefer to go ahead with the plan as it was originally conceived. New Jersey Transit had previously expressed its opposition to the approach advocated by Cuomo.

“There are some very solid facts to support the position we have taken and in fact these facts have been obtained because of all the pressure that has taken place and all the debates that have taken place,” said Tony Coscia. , Chairman of the Board of Directors of Amtrak.

The Biden administration approved the original approach in the environmental impact study.

“Because of the importance of the North River Tunnel to essential commuter and intercity rail service between New Jersey and New York City, the rehabilitation of the existing North River Tunnel must be completed without significant delay to the city. commuter and intercity rail service, “the EIS read. . “Therefore, these in-service rehabilitation approaches would not meet the objective and needs of the project. “

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy applauded the approval on Friday.

“Today’s action is a key step towards building a rail infrastructure that will be reliable for decades to come,” said Murphy. “We look forward to working with our regional and federal partners to complete the Hudson Tunnel project and continue to advance the Gateway program to provide much-needed relief to commuters and businesses in New Jersey and New York.”

Cuomo also praised the news, despite his recent remarks.

“The president and his team have been stalwart champions of New York from day one,” Cuomo said in a statement Friday. “By now it should be clear to every American that this administration is serious about implementing the vision behind its bold infrastructure program.”

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