President Joe Biden will visit New York City on Tuesday to announce the first federal grant to build new passenger rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River, marking the latest step forward for the long-stalled Gateway Program.
The $292 million award is just a small fraction of the $16.1 billion officials have requested for the project.
Officials from New York and New Jersey have planned to build the new tunnels between the two states for nearly a decade. The current 113-year-old tubes were damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and officials behind the project say they can't be repaired until the new tunnels are built.
The money will be used to complete the concrete casing for the new tunnels on the Manhattan side.
“There is no bigger advocate for our project and for transformative infrastructure projects than President Biden,” said Stephen Sigmund, a spokesperson for the Gateway Development Commission, the bistate organization in charge of the project.
Last fall, the Gateway Development Commission added another $2 billion to the new tunnels' price tag. New York and New Jersey have requested a total of $6.7 billion from the Federal Transit Administration for the project. Officials behind the project hope to get signoff for that federal grant in the spring of 2024, which would be the largest-ever award by the FTA since the agency was founded in 1964.
The two states have agreed to split the remainder of the project's cost.
If the feds sign off on the money for the project next year, officials said construction could begin the following fall. If that schedule holds, trains could begin crossing the new tunnels by 2035. It would take another three years to fully rehabilitate the old tunnel, completing the entire project in 2038 — or 15 years from now.
The Gateway Program includes another eight projects to expand passenger rail capacity across the Hudson, like extending Penn Station a block south and rebuilding several bridges in New Jersey. The Federal Railway Administration estimates all the projects will cost a combined $40 billion.
Tom Wright, President and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, said in an email the new tunnel “remains the tristate’s most critical large-scale infrastructure priority.”
The Obama administration secured a commitment with New York and New Jersey in 2015 to fund the project, but the project stalled during the Trump administration.
“We are energetic and enthusiastic partners on this project,” US Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg told Gothamist. “I can just tell you here at US DOT, from the secretary on down, we are very engaged in working with the two states, with Amtrak, with the Port Authority to do everything we can to get through all the steps that are needed to access federal funds, all the approvals that are needed on the federal level.”
Other work on the Gateway Program is already underway. For example, officials have since 2017 announced several groundbreakings for New Jersey’s Portal North Bridge replacement.
But there are also major questions around plans to expand Penn Station a block south, which would add more tracks to handle the extra trains that will run through the new tunnels. Officials peg that project’s cost at nearly $11 billion.
On top of all that, Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed an overhaul of existing Penn Station and its surrounding neighborhood — a project that isn’t included in the Gateway Program and is estimated to cost $22 billion.
The future of Hochul’s overhaul remains uncertain, but the governor said she’s committed to seeing it to completion.
This story has been updated to correct the amount of the federal award for the Gateway Program.