A Feb. 16 reversal by the new Federal Transit Administration of a Trump-era ruling on transit funding has switched a red light to green on a $11.6-billion plan to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and rehabilitate the existing one.

The Gateway Program to improve train capacity between New Jersey and New York was stalled when the agency, three years ago, announced it would no longer consider federal loans as part of states’ portions of the funding.

The previous ruling effectively blocked the project on the grounds that it didn’t have sufficient local funding to meet federal grant standards, as noted by StreetsBlog NYC, The Biden Administration reversal, in a web-posted note from FTA acting administrator Nuria Fernandez now means that if state taxpayers are holding the bag for a federal loan, that money should count toward the local funding share of a project.

“The next steps are approval of a federal Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision that the prior administration delayed for almost three years, so we can move forward with items like property acquisition,” says Stephen Sigmund, spokesperson for the Gateway Program Development Corp., a New Jersey-based non-profit formed to oversee and deliver the project. It works closely with Amtrak, NJ Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“Also, we are working with our federal partners to improve the rating for the Hudson tunnel project in the Capital Investments Grant process, which we hope is helped by yesterday's 'Dear Colleague' FTA letter making it clear that loans repaid entirely by localities should count as part of the local share of a project,” he adds. 

The Gateway program, which includes $1.8 billion to rehabilitate the existing North River Tunnel and $9.8 billion for a new tunnel, increased in cost 2.4% last year due to the delay, according to the Gateway non-profit.

The states will pursue a federal 50% share of $5.5 billion and identify early project-related activities that can move forward, says Jamey Barbas, a Gateway Development board member.