Plans for the $16.1-billion Hudson River rail tunnel project between New Jersey and New York City passed a key milestone Sept. 13 as the board of the Gateway Development Commission voted to take on the project sponsor role, enabling it to seek and receive billions of dollars in federal funding.

The vote enables the commission to take over responsibility for the project from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As project sponsor, the commission can apply for federal loans. Kris Kolluri, chief executive of the commission, said in a statement that the commission is pursuing billions of dollars from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Build America Bureau through its Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing loan program. The commission board also voted at its meeting to expend as much as $750,000 to move forward the RRIF loan process.

“The region and nation have waited long enough for the Gateway Hudson Tunnel to be built, and we are moving forward aggressively on every step necessary to qualify the project for federal funds so full construction can get started,” Kolluri said.

New York and New Jersey officials jointly created the commission in 2019. As project sponsor, it will also be responsible for ensuring the project meets any federal loan requirements, as well as completing the project on time and within budget and complying with any environmental mitigation and historic preservation commitments.

Plans call for rehabilitation of an existing Hudson River tunnel, plus construction of a new two-track tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan. During the commission’s board meeting, officials provided an updated total project cost estimate—the $16.1-billion estimate is up from $14.1 billion a year earlier, but the commission aims to reduce the total cost to as low as $14.7 billion with additional federal grant funding. 

The commission has also updated its timeline for the tunnel project. While it had previously forecast construction starting in 2023, officials are now anticipating reaching a full funding agreement by the spring of 2024 and starting major construction in the fall of 2024. They estimate the new tunnel would be complete in 2035, and the rehabilitation of the existing tunnel would complete in 2038.

The tunnel project is part of the larger Gateway Program, which aims to create new capacity and improving resilience along the busiest section of the Northeast Corridor rail system.

The commission is also overseeing a project to replace the 112-year-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in New Jersey as part of the Gateway Program.