The federal government now estimates that building a new Hudson River rail tunnel and fixing up the existing ones will cost $13 billion. The estimate is over $4 billion more than the estimated cost of a previous cross-Hudson tunnel blocked by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010. The new figure contributes to a combined tunnel and New Jersey bridge replacement plan that is $4-5 billion more than previous estimates.
The number comes from a draft environmental statement released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The report was supposed to come out last week, the same day that the feds announced they were withdrawing from a nonprofit corporation set up to coordinate state, federal, and Amtrak efforts. The removal cast further doubt on a plan that under Donald Trump's proposed budget would be at least partially defunded as part of drastic cuts to the DOT, even as Trump claims to be pursuing massive new investments in U.S. infrastructure.
Transportation industry sources told Crain's that Trump and transportation head Elain Chao are committed to the Gateway project and pulled out of the oversight body to gain leverage in negotiations over how it's funded. The tunnels and nearby Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River that are up for replacement provide sole access to Penn Station to 200,000 Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers daily. Trump has said that a large piece of his purported $1 trillion infrastructure investment will come from private sources.
The earlier Access to the Region's Core tunnel project was quashed by Christie after ground had broken on it, so that he could attempt to keep a campaign promise of not raising gas taxes (at the time he said that he didn't want New Jersey to be on the hook for cost overruns that he predicted). He later raised gas taxes anyway.
Earlier this week, a federal DOT spokesman said to expect "several project announcements regarding the Northeast Corridor" "in the near future."
Half of the money for the current project has been committed by New York, New Jersey, and Amtrak, and the Obama DOT committed the other half and pledged to fast-track the review process.
At a press event today, Gateway Program Development Corporation interim director John Porcari stressed that he is open to alternative funding mechanisms that might yet be proposed.
"We've always had a very open mind as to how best to build it," he said. "That's something we're actively evaluating."
As with most major construction projects, the longer that the Gateway overhaul is delayed, the more it will cost. Last year, a good-government group estimated that a three-year review process would increase costs by more than $3 billion.
That, of course, is not counting the tremendous economic havoc that would be wreaked by an emergency closure of existing trans-Hudson tubes into Penn Station. Opened in 1910, the tunnels flooded with saltwater during Sandy, and currently require pumping for "ambient leaking." Closure of one of the two tunnels would reduce train capacity from New Jersey into Penn Station by three quarters.
Had Christie not killed the previous tunnel project, it was estimated to be on track for completion by this year.