Work Begins on $16.1 Billion New York-New Jersey Tunnel

Gateway Project Rail Tunnel Won’t Be in Service Until 2035
Pete Buttigieg as Gateway Tunnel ceremony
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks Nov. 3 at a ceremony marking the beginning of the Gateway Project. (Forbes Breaking News/youtube)

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The $16.1 billion, long-delayed, once-canceled effort to build a new rail tunnel linking New York and New Jersey is officially starting construction after more than a decade of false starts.

“This is a day that I know that this city, this region, this country has been looking for and waiting for for a very long time,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said at an event in the Hudson Yards neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan on Nov. 3. Buttigieg was flanked by construction equipment and was joined by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, and other officials.

The Gateway Project is key to easing congestion under the Hudson River, a chokepoint on the Northeast Corridor that runs between Boston and Washington, the country’s busiest passenger-train route, carrying more than 750,000 daily passengers. The existing tunnel, which is owned by Amtrak and also used by New Jersey Transit, is more than a century old and increasingly unreliable.

The initial phase of construction will build underground casings for trains to pass through, connecting the new tunnel to New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. But it will be years before commuters feel relief. The new two-track tunnel isn’t expected to be in service until 2035.

Gillibrand called the project a “monumental undertaking.”

Earlier this year, the Gateway tunnel received a $6.9 billion federal grant commitment from the Federal Transit Administration, a key piece of funding needed for further construction. Another $3.8 billion of federal funding was announced on Nov. 3, bringing the total contribution from Washington to more than $11 billion, or about 70% of the project, Schumer said at the event.

New York and New Jersey have agreed to split the remaining costs.

Efforts to build a new tunnel and reduce rail congestion between New York and New Jersey have been underway since the 1990s. But the initiative has been caught in political crossfire, leading to years of delays.

A predecessor tunnel project, with full funding in place, had started construction when it was canceled by then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2010, who said the state couldn’t afford it. The Gateway project was proposed a year later but stalled under the Trump administration.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law appropriated an additional $8 billion over five years to the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program, which included Gateway on a list of priorities. Earlier this year, Biden’s administration allocated $292 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law to complete a critical early phase of the project.

“All systems are a go,” Schumer said. “There is no turning back.”

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