Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday the $11 billion Gateway Tunnel project under the Hudson River is moving “full speed ahead,” despite indications from Governor Andrew Cuomo that New York may withhold its part of the funding.
“We are full speed ahead to get Gateway done,” Schumer said at a press conference at Penn Station on June 28. “Today, we can announce that the hostage that was Gateway Tunnel under the previous administration has been set free, and we are on a rapid path to get it done.”
The massive project, which Schumer dubbed the “largest public works project in America,” calls for boring a new tunnel from New Jersey to Penn Station before rehabilitating the existing 111-year-old existing tube used by Amtrak inter-city trains and NJ Transit’s commuter rails — and which was inundated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Politicians for years accused former President Donald Trump of holding up the scheme, but Buttigieg visited the Big Apple with Schumer and a Congressional delegation from both sides of the Hudson to say that the stars are now aligned to get it back on track as President Joe Biden wraps up talks for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in Washington.
“This time for the first time in a long time we have total alignment between the President of the United States, the Biden-Harris Administration, leadership in the House and the Senate, and, importantly the American people to do big things in infrastructure,” Buttigieg said.
The project’s environmental impact statement (EIS) was approved last month by the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration and calls for boring an entirely new tunnel at the cost of $9.22 billion before closing the old crossing, opened in 1910, at the cost of $1.81 billion.
It is currently in environmental review and construction on the tunnel is slated to start in 2023, but Schumer said he’s trying to move that up to 2022, and it will likely wrap in 6-7 years.
“The impacts of this corridor are so great that if there were a loss of service, if one of these tunnels were to go out of service, you would be feeling the economic impact all the way back in Indiana, where I come from. That’s how important this is,” said Buttigieg, a former presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
The tunnels are part of a larger initiative to improve Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in the country, and the 10-mile segment of the project carries more than 200,000 daily Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers — almost twice the population of South Bend.
Out of the $579 billion of new infrastructure spending Biden wants to introduce as part of the package — which in addition to existing funds will add up to $1.2 trillion over eight years — $66 billion is set aside for passenger and freight rail and $49 billion for public transportation.
Half of the funding will have to come from New York and New Jersey, and Governor Cuomo cast doubt on the Empire State kicking in its quarter, saying he would only give his go-ahead if officials look at the 2019 repairs to the L-trains East River subway tunnel, which prevented a full-scale shutdown and instead fixed the tube on nights and weekends.
“I’m not going to spend New Yorkers’ money in a way that is not the most cost efficient way,” Cuomo said on May 27. “I’m not going to pay unless it is a smart, efficient, effective process, period. 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.”
Cuomo said using such repairs on night and weekends could allow work to already start on the old tunnel without waiting on the new one, but the chairman of the Amtrak board of directors said they don’t plan to change the proposal.
“Concerns about exactly how to build this and what elements ought to be a part of this are a good and proper part of this debate,” said Tony Coscia. “But the EIS that was approved, was approved after an exhaustive review of all the options available and we came up with a way of building this tunnel that we think protects the safety, viability, and effectiveness of what we’re trying to build here. It is on us to convince all of the funding partners that we are doing our job and that we are doing it effectively.”
On Monday, Cuomo declined to say whether he would still hold up New York’s funding, but said he was ready to get the project completed in a smart and cost-effective way.
“Secretary Buttigieg’s visit to see the Hudson Tunnels is another step towards a restoration of the collaborative federal-state partnership needed to bring the new Gateway Tunnel project into reality,” the governor said in a statement Monday. “It is imperative that we use our state funds in a cost-effective manner to do as much work as possible. We look forward to working with our federal partners and expect to see a smart, fair, cost-effective plan to get the Gateway Tunnel project completed.”