Posts Tagged ‘Gateway Project’

Agencies OK Documents for Hudson River Tunnel Project

June 4, 2021

Two federal agencies have issued the final environmental impact statement and record of decision for a project to create a new tunnel under the Hudson River in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration issued the documents recently in cooperation with the New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Amtrak and the Gateway Development Commission.

The documents will enable the Hudson Tunnel Project to advance toward final design and construction.

The tunnel is one component of the Gateway Program. Although no federal funding has been approved for the project to date, completion of these two steps is a prerequisite for FRA or FTA to direct future federal funding for such things as engineering, final design development and property acquisition.

Gateway Study Completion Expected in May

April 15, 2021

A long-stalled Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Gateway Tunnel project in New York and New Jersey is expected to be completed in May.

The project, which affects Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, involves building new tunnels between New Jersey and New York City under the Hudson River while rebuilding the existing tunnels.

The tunnels are used by New Jersey Transit commuter trains.

The announcement of the completion date for the environmental study was made by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

It had been expected given that the Biden administration has signaled its support for the Gateway project.

Biden Administration Expected to Move Gateway Project Along

March 27, 2021

The Biden administration plans to approve the long-stalled Gateway Project to build new tunnels under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made the announcement this week during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Buttigieg said the U.S. Department of Transportation hopes to complete the project’s environmental impact statement by the end of June.

“I share your sense of urgency,” Buttigieg told the committee. “This is a regional issue but one of “national significance because if there was a failure in one of those tunnels, the entire U.S. economy would feel it.”

The existing tunnels are more than a century old and suffered severe damage in 2012 during superstorm Sandy.

Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains use the tunnels.

DOT No. 2 Nominee Pledges Support for Gateway Project

March 14, 2021

The Biden administration’s nominee for the No. 2 job at the U.S. Department of Transportation said during a Senate confirmation hearing that the Northeast Corridor’s Gateway Tunnel project will be a top priority of the agency.

Deputy Secretary of Transportation nominee Polly Trottenberg made the pledge in response to a question asked by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).

“It is truly a project of national significance, and as you say, one that really would have just a massive rippling impact if we were to see those over-100-year-old tunnels under the Hudson River for some reason need to be shut down,” Trottenberg said.

She formerly served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.

The $11 billion Gateway project calls for construction of two tunnels linking New York’s Penn Station and New Jersey under the Hudson River.

The two existing tunnels between the points would be rebuilt. Both were damaged in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy.

The tunnels are used by trains of Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

The current tunnels were built in 1910 by the former Pennsylvania Railroad.

“Clearly, in my view, without the Gateway Project, our rail and possibly other transportation systems will collapse on the East Coast,” Blumenthal said. “As much of an exaggeration it may seem to say it that way, it is literally true that the tunnel is decaying and increasingly decrepit. It poses a danger to transportation up and down the East Coast. It could literally cripple the transportation grid as we know it now, and yet there have been delays and foot-dragging and finger-pointing.”

Trottenberg agreed that if the tunnels were shut down it would have “a massive ripping impact.”

She said President Joseph Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg “have spoken about this project, and that the Department is going to be hard at work making sure we are picking up the pace and expediting the environmental and other approvals needed for this project, and working closely, I think, with the Congress as well to make sure we have a financing and funding scheme that can get the project done.”

When asked what Congress should be doing to get the Gateway project moving, Trottenberg said the administration will be coming back to Congress for further discussion.

Blumenthal asked Trottenberg to provide a a status report within two to four weeks of her confirmation.

“If confirmed, I certainly will, Senator, and I agree, this is not a project that we can fail to complete,” Trottenberg said. “We are going to have to find a way to do Gateway.”

FTA Changes Matching Fund Rule

February 19, 2021

The Federal Transit Administration has made a significant rule change for projects seeking to receive Capital Investment Grant funding.

The agency no longer will prohibit grant recipients from using CIG grants as part of their local funding match when applying for grants.

That prohibition, which had been imposed during the Trump administration, has been criticized for establishing barriers to certain public transit projects.

In a letter sent this past week the FTA said it will now “rely on the CIG statutory framework”to ensure that projects have met federal transportation law, the Major Capital Investment Projects Final rule, and the CIG Final Interim Policy Guidance published in June 2016.

Some congressional Democrats had accused the Trump administration of using funding policies to delay or thwart such Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure projects as replacing the century old Portal Bridge and constructing a new tunnel linking New York City and New Jersey under the Hudson River, also known as the Gateway project.

Under the new FTA policy, states will be allowed to use federal loans to cover their share of a project’s costs, something New York and New Jersey had planned to do with their federal loans in order to meet their 50 percent match of funding for the Gateway project.

Former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao had in May 2018 prohibited states from using federal loans as part of their project match funding.

Although Congress a year later prohibited USDOT from doing that, the agency continued to maintain its policy of banning use of loans for state matching funds.

Chao, Congress Continue to Spar Over Tunnel

March 6, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration has released an environmental assessment of a plan to replace the Sawtooth Bridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

But U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao told Congress this week that her agency won’t release an environmental impact statement about a proposed new tunnel under the Hudson River until that project qualifies for federal funding.

The Sawtooth bridges are located between Newark Penn Station and Secaucus Junction and replacing it is one of several infrastructure improvements Amtrak wants to make to the Northeast Corridor.

Thus far the Federal Transit Administration has given the Hudson River tunnel project a “medium-low” rating which means it does not qualify for federal funding.

Chao said until that rating improves DOT won’t release a record of decision regarding the tunnel project.

That prompted supporters of the Gateway project to note that Chao has admitted for the first time that DOT is trying the environmental impact statement to the project’s FTA rating.

Build Gateway Now Campaign Manager Brian Fritsch said DOT’s actions “directly contradict[s] the usual process for rail projects.”

Fritsch said the lack of an environmental impact statement means that such things as land acquisition cannot proceed.

He said this creates a dilemma because land acquisition could ultimately improve a project’s financial rating.

The environmental impacts statement has been due to be released by March 30, 2018.

In the meantime, the FRA is accepting public comments on the environmental statement for the Sawtooth bridge project through April 4.

More information is available at https://cms8.fra.dot.gov/environment/environmental-reviews/amtrak-sawtooth-bridges-replacement-project

Hudson River Tunnel Repair Plans in the Works

March 3, 2020

Even as the political fighting in Washington over the Gateway project continues, Amtrak is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation on a plan to repair the existing tunnel.

The repair plan is expected to result in delays and disruptions to Amtrak passenger and New York City commuters.

Amtrak senior vice president Stephen Gardner said the carrier is “trying to balance what we can do now with the impact of doing it now.”

Gardner acknowledged that doing work over the next five years would affect rush hour rail traffic between New York and New Jersey.

Secretary of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently said during a congressional hearing that repairing the existing tunnel is more cost effective than building a new tunnel.

She noted that repairs could begin immediately whereas the new tunnel would not open for seven to 10 years and would cost between $11 billion and $13 billion.

“Given the time, the cost and the complexity of building an entirely new tunnel, the department is working with Amtrak to design and validate a faster and more cost-effective method to improve safety and functionality of this tunnel as the first order of business,” Chao said.

The Hudson River tunnel is nearly 110 years old and was damaged by the 2012 Superstorm Sandy.

U.S. DOT has delayed awarding of federal funding to the Gateway project, which has drawn sharp criticism from members of Congress representing states along the Northeast Corridor.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-New York), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the repair plan “a nonstarter” unless DOT also approves the plan to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River.

Lowey said rebuilding the tunnel will not increase rail capacity whereas a new tunnel would create four tracks leading into New York City compared with the current two.

“Without a new tunnel and two new tracks  . . . the bottlenecks will continue to limit Amtrak and commuter rail, which limits economic growth throughout the Northeast,” Lowey said.

Chao countered that DOT is not necessarily saying a new tunnel is unneeded, but that starting repairs now would allow further preparations for the new tunnel to move ahead.

The new Hudson River tunnel received last month a “medium-low” rating by the Federal Transit Administration, which means it doesn’t qualify for federal funding.

The tunnel project has received a project-justification rating of “high,” but has been given a “low” rating for financial commitment.

DOT has been calling for New York and New Jersey to increase their financial commitment to the Gateway project, which also includes replacement of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River near Newark.

That component of the Gateway project received a higher score in the most recent FTA ratings and therefore qualifies for a federal capital grant.

In a statement responding to Chao’s congressional testimony, Amtrak said it has been talking with DOT about repairing the existing tunnel.

“A new Hudson Tunnel remains critical to the Northeast Corridor and the nation and we look forward to our continued work with U.S. DOT to advance this project,” the carrier said.

The repairs Amtrak is eyeing include patching the concrete benchwall and fixing issues with lighting and drainage. Power lines also need to be replaced.

The passenger carrier has not said when the work would begin, how long it will take or how much it would cost.

Amtrak has said it wants to get started on the project soon.

DOT’s Chao Calls for Rebuilding of Hudson River Tunnel Rather than Waiting on Replacement

March 2, 2020

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told a congressional hearing last week that Amtrak should fix the Hudson River tunnel rather than build a new one.

Appearing before the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Chao said repairing the tunnel would be a faster remedy and more cost effective than building a new tunnel.

Chao said the tunnel project has scored poorly under Federal Transit Administration review metrics and suggested Amtrak begin immediate repairs on the century-old facility that was damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

However, she later said, “I did not say that we don’t need a second tunnel.”

A new tunnel linking New Jersey and New York City has been proposed as part of the Gateway initiative.

The twin-bore new tunnel would be built adjacent to the existing tunnel.

In her testimony, Chao did not elaborate on the technical details of her proposal but did say “new and innovative methods for repairing the North River Tunnel while still in operation, could allow Amtrak to commence repairs in this tunnel as much as 10 years ahead of schedule,”

She made her comments as part of a contentious exchange with some committee members who represent states along the Northeast Corridor.

Critics have accused DOT of slow walking federal funding for the tunnel replacement project and reneging on an agreement made years earlier in regards to the federal funding share of the project.

DOT officials have suggested the tunnel is a local project that needs more state and local funding rather than relying on federal funding for much of its cost.

The hearing was part of a review of the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 transportation budget request.

Amtrak has said repairing the Hudson tunnel would require single-tracking operations that would reduce its capacity by 75 percent.

Aside from Amtrak, the tunnel is also used by New Jersey Transit trains.

Portal Bridge Rules to Become Permanent

February 22, 2020

The U.S. Coast Guard will make permanent next month a practice of keeping the Portal Bridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor closed during rush hour.

The 110-year-old structure over the Hackensack River in New Jersey has been prone to malfunctions after being opened for marine traffic, which has resulted in delays to Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains.

Last year the Coast Guard began keeping the swing bridge closed between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on an interim basis with limited exceptions.

Replacement of the bridge is a key component of the Gateway Plan that would make other infrastructure improvements including construction of new tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City.

Portal Bridge Gets Favorable FTA Rating

February 14, 2020

The Federal Transit Agency this week gave a favorable rating to one component of the Gateway Project in the Northeast Corridor but continued to rate low the other major component.

The replacement of the Portal Bridge in New Jersey received a “medium high” rating from FTA while construction of a new tunnel between New York City and New Jersey continues to receive a “medium low” rating.

It means that the $1.8 billion bridge replacement plan can move to the engineering phase.

The bridge spans the Hackensack River and sometimes fails to lock into place after opening, which delays Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains.

New reports have indicated that the $11 billion tunnel project continues to languish due to the assertion of the federal government that the project is not receiving enough local funding.

The “medium low” priority rating means the tunnel project continues to be ineligible for federal funds.