New York Senator Chuck Schumer on Tuesday took a step toward breaking the logjam over funding to repair and replace the rail tunnels that connect New York City and New Jersey.
Schumer proposed creating a Gateway Authority that would serve to draw together the various constituents that have been at loggerheads over how to pay for new train tunnels under the Hudson River.
Schumer’s proposal seeks to find a resolution to a decade old transit problem that has been plagued by political opposition, mostly notably by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 and more recently by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Plans to replace or repair the century old tunnels were already under way when water damaged caused by Hurricane Sandy made the need more urgent. Damage to electrical cables in the tunnels caused massive delays for thousands of commuters in July. But shutting one of the two tunnels for repair would squeeze traffic to a trickle, from 24 trains an hour to six.
The tunnels are not only a bottleneck for the thousands of commuters who rely on them every day, but are also a critical choke point for train traffic in the entire Northeast corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston.
Planning for ways to alleviate the bottleneck began decades ago and was first incarnated as New Jersey Transit’s Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC, project. Shortly after work on ARC began, the project was killed in October 2010 when Christie, who was worried about cost overruns on the $8.7 billion project.
ARC was reincarnated as Amtrak’s even larger Gateway project in February 2011, which is as massive as it is costly. The project would double current passenger rail capacity under the Hudson River with the addition of two new tunnels and the repair of the two existing tunnels. It would also include two new bridges over the Hackensack River, add two tracks to the existing two tracks between Newark and the Bergen Palisades Tunnels, expand the existing Penn Station tracks in New York and create a new “Penn South” corridor that would connect to the new Moynihan Station being built at the site of the James A. Farley Post Office building.
Amtrak says it does not yet have a reliable cost estimate for the project, but has already directed $300 million, mostly from federal sources, toward Gateway, including $74 million for planning and pre-construction work and $235 million for the Hudson Yards tunnel boxes.
The tunnel boxes are being built under the Hudson Yards development just west of Penn Station. They go up to, but not under, the Hudson River and are designed to preserve access between the station and the new tunnels, should they eventually be built. It is a gamble, but without the boxes the trans-Hudson tunnels would have nowhere to go once the Hudson Yards were built.