By: Rich Bagger
After a years-long delay, the Gateway Program of rail infrastructure improvements between Newark, New Jersey and New York City is on the move again.
Gateway’s central feature is a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, to be followed by rehabilitation of the more than a century old existing tunnel. Additional initial elements of the Gateway Program include replacement of the Portal Bridge in New Jersey and completion of concrete casing for the railroad right-of-way from the new tunnel to Penn Station New York.
Later phases of the Gateway Program include expansion of Penn Station New York, replacement of the Sawtooth Bridges in New Jersey, expansion of the Secaucus Junction Station, trackwork to create a one-seat ride to Manhattan for Bergen and Passaic County rail lines, construction of a second Portal Bridge, and completion of four rail tracks from Newark Penn Station to New York Penn Station.
The Gateway Program gained its initial momentum with the 2015 agreement between the Federal government and the States of New York and New Jersey to collaborate on the project, with costs split equally between the Federal government (50 percent) and the two states (25% each).
That bipartisan agreement led to the creation in 2016 of the Gateway Program Development Corporation, consisting of representatives from Amtrak, New York and New Jersey, to oversee the Gateway Program. The Gateway Program Development Corporation was superseded in 2019 by a newly created bistate agency, the Gateway Development Commission, which is driving the program forward today.
Early milestones of progress for the Gateway Program included the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and both states collectively committing $5.5 billion for the local funding share of the Hudson Tunnel Project, submission of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Hudson Tunnel Project in record time for a project of its size (just 22 months) and completion of the financial plan for the Portal Bridge replacement.
Significant delays in Federal approval of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision as well as a surprisingly low rating of the Hudson Tunnel Project for Federal funding slowed progress on Gateway considerably. However, action on Gateway accelerated dramatically this year, including approval by the outgoing administration in January 2021 of a $766.5 million federal grant for the Portal Bridge replacement and approval by the new administration in May 2021 of the Hudson Tunnel Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision.
This year’s bipartisan infrastructure legislation includes funding that will be available for the Hudson River Tunnel, meaning that all the initial elements of the Gateway Program – the new tunnel, the existing tunnel rehabilitation, the Portal Bridge replacement and the railroad right of way concrete casing in Manhattan, will each be permitted, funded and poised to move forward.
This is great news for the metropolitan New York/New Jersey region as well as the national economy, and a credit to the strong and consistent advocacy by Federal, state and local officials from New York, New Jersey and beyond.
The Gateway Program is essential for the continued viability and growth of the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily used passenger rail line in the United States with 2,000 trains carrying 800,000 passengers daily. It serves a region that accounts for 20 percent of the national GDP and 17 percent of the U.S. population. It is great to see the Gateway Program moving forward again with more momentum than ever.
Richard Bagger served as a Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 2012 to 2021, was a member of the intergovernmental Gateway Program Committee that preceded the Gateway Program Development Corporation and was elected to serve as the first Board Chair of the Gateway Program Development Corporation.
Image Copyright: Hudson Tunnel Project