Construction kicking off on Gateway Tunnel under Hudson River

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announces the start of construction on the Gateway tunnel project on Nov. 3, 2023.
Susan Watts/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Construction is finally kicking off on the long-dreamt Gateway Tunnel project, doubling train capacity under the Hudson River and easing pressure on century-old train tubes used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

Senator Chuck Schumer announced a new, $3.8 billion federal grant for the Gateway project on Friday, bringing federal funding for the project to about $10.7 billion out of about $17 billion in total estimated costs.

After a decade of uncertainty, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other officials announced construction is set to start this month on tunnel casings between Penn Station and the future underwater tunnel entrance in Manhattan.

“This corridor is vital to our economic success. And that’s been the story for over a century,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Friday. “But now we’re called upon to make the investments to ensure for the next 100 years, this is reliable, it’s stable, it can be counted on, and make sure it’s never disrupted.”

The existing tunnels under the Hudson are 110 years old and sustained severe damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which in the ensuing years have contributed to cascading failures heavily impacting service on the Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in North America. Despite that, Gateway has been the subject of numerous false starts and cancellations over the course of more than a decade.

A prior, similar project called Access to the Region’s Core was controversially cancelled by New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie in 2009; Amtrak, which owns the tunnels, then announced the Gateway project in 2011, and the Obama administration sought to create a cost-sharing agreement between New York, New Jersey, and the feds.

Momentum stalled, though, during the Trump administration, which was mum to commit federal funding to what it described as a local project. The pace picked back up under the Biden administration, and Gateway has been touted as one of the nation’s most important infrastructure projects getting funding from the 2021 infrastructure law.

Schumer announced a separate $6.9 billion grant for Gateway this summer, and said he was attempting to shore up funding and get shovels in the ground quickly so the project could get underway under a “friendly administration.”

The whole project is not expected to be complete until the mid-to-late 2030s. By that time, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit will have two tunnels under the Hudson in each direction rather than the current two, doubling the railroads’ capacities.

The news comes as Republicans on Capitol Hill delay a vote on a proposal that would impose draconian cuts on Amtrak service, particularly on the Northeast Corridor where service would be slashed by 90%. The proposal was decried by lawmakers from both parties, particularly from New York.

Construction on Gateway also kicks off as the feds grant billions of dollars to another major Big Apple infrastructure project, the Second Avenue Subway. One day after the Gateway announcement, officials descended on East Harlem for Buttigieg to formally announce a $3.4 billion federal grant to extend the Second Avenue Subway to 125th Street. The Daily News reported the extension is set for completion in 2032.