New York-New Jersey Tunnel Work May Start in 2023

An Amtrak train exits the North River Tunnel in North Bergen, N.J.
An Amtrak train exits the North River Tunnel in North Bergen, N.J. (Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg News)

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The $12.3 billion Gateway rail tunnel linking New York City and New Jersey has reached a major preconstruction milestone with the completion of geotechnical studies necessary for the engineering phase.

The analysis of rock and silt from 75 earth samples on both sides of the Hudson River marks the latest in a series of swift leaps toward a potential 2023 start date. The project had been delayed years by former President Donald Trump, who had argued that costs should be covered solely by the states, not U.S. taxpayers.

The samples, from depths of 48 feet to 505 feet, will guide design, according to the Gateway Development Commission, the project’s overseer. Some areas of particular interest to the researchers were on Manhattan’s West Side, parts of which were underwater before landfill was added many years ago.

“The geotechnical investigations will help inform the contractor/designers what the fill consists of and where the rock is located relative to the surface,” Gateway spokesman Steve Sigmund said in an email.

The findings support construction along a path that early planning had favored.

The Gateway commission calls the tunnel the nation’s most urgent infrastructure need. Amtrak regional and NJ Transit commuter trains that will use the tunnel serve the Northeast Corridor line from Washington, D.C., to Boston, a region that contributes 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product. The link would double rail capacity between New York and New Jersey.

The development was hailed as a “major accomplishment” in a statement by Steven M. Cohen and Balpreet Grewal-Virk, the commission’s co-chairs, and Vice Chairman Tony Coscia, who also is Amtrak’s chairman.

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“This work is another example of our partners working together to advance the tunnel project as far as we possibly can in preparation for full funding and construction,” they said.

The sole existing tunnel, more than a century old, is safe, Amtrak says, but increasingly unreliable because of flood-damaged electrical and other components.

The Federal Transit Administration in January raised the project’s priority to make it eligible for federal funding, and in May 2021 it received environmental clearance. Trump’s administration had ranked Gateway too low for federal grants and had delayed the environmental assessment.

Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Stephen Gardner on Feb. 22 told Bloomberg Television that the project is “cued up” to seek $5.6 billion, the amount outstanding after New York and New Jersey together committed billions of dollars.