How will NJ, NY split the cost of Gateway? Advocates want negotiations sped up

Colleen Wilson
NorthJersey.com

New York and New Jersey should share how they plan to fund their portions of the Hudson River tunnel projects by the end of the month, says a local planning group backing the project. 

"We write to urge you to expediently identify the state funding sources to support the project’s financial plan — which should be completed by the end of July," wrote Brian Fritsch, campaign manager for the coalition group Build Gateway Now, in a letter to Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy of New York and New Jersey, respectively.

The $11.6 billion project, known as the first phase of the Gateway program, would pay for digging and constructing two new train tunnels, plus repairing the old ones, which would double the number of tracks into New York Penn Station currently used by Amtrak, NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road.

"This is something all the parties are working on right now," said Steve Cohen, a co-chair of the Gateway Development Commission, the agency created by the New York and New Jersey state legislatures to oversee the project and receive the federal funding.

Nailing down the funding specifics is especially important because the Federal Transit Administration is reviewing the grant rating for this project, which must receive a higher priority rating than its current "medium-low" status in order to be eligible for a grant.

This could help put the project on an accelerated timeline. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said during a recent visit to the tunnels with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that he hopes construction could begin next year, instead of in 2023.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, right, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hold a decaying piece of a rail tunnel while they speak during a news conference in New York, Monday, June 28, 2021. Buttigieg toured the century-old rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey as a long-delayed project to build a new tunnel gains steam. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The splits were expected to be roughly $1.75 billion covered by New York and about $1.65 billion by New Jersey, a slightly lower amount because New Jersey is shelling out about $811 million for the complementary Portal Bridge replacement project. Amtrak has committed nearly $1.3 billion, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will chip in $2.15 billion, and $5.5 billion in federal funds is being requested.

"We are confident that with our partners in New York and in the Biden administration, we will be able to come to a fair and equitable funding agreement and start construction on the most critical and important infrastructure project in the country," said Michael Zhadanovsky, a spokesman for the Murphy administration.

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Indications from the states about how they plan to pay for their shares of the cost could point to whether an agreement has been made about the construction strategy for the new tunnels and rehabilitation of the old ones.

In recent months, Cuomo saidhe disagrees with the construction approach of building the new tunnels before making substantial fixes to the 110-year-old rail corridors.

Cuomo believes the old tunnels could be shut down overnight for those repairs, a method that planners at the Federal Railroad Administration, NJ Transit and Amtrak disagree with because they say that could significantly disrupt train schedules.

The North River Tunnel is seen from a train traveling to New York's Penn Station.

“I’m not going to pay unless it is a smart efficient effective process, period,” Cuomo said at a May press conference, around the time the Biden administration approved a necessary environmental review.

Cohen, who was appointed to the Gateway board by Cuomo, said the governor is ready to "proceed as quickly as possible" when asked Monday about whether Cuomo plans to hold up negotiations on how to split the local share or if the governor does not plan on pursuing a 50-50 split with New Jersey.

"I repeatedly heard this notion that the governor is not committed to the project and I read very carefully what he has said and I’m at a loss to understand why people feel that," Cohen said.

"The view is, and always has been, we should proceed as quickly as possible, we should proceed in a way that is cost effective," Cohen said, adding "there’s always a caveat and the caveat is do it intelligently, do it effectively, do it in a way that makes sense."

Meanwhile, as ridership has increased, so have delays in the tunnel. Twenty-two days in the first quarter of the year were impacted by delays from power outages, track issues or other problems that need to be fixed in the old tunnels, according to a presentation at the Gateway board meeting Monday. Last year, there were 54 days of delays.

"We’re living in a world of unacceptable delay and risk," Cohen said. "To the extent there was a question of whether or not people would not be returning to travel, to commuting in the post-COVID world, I think we now have the resounding answer and that, which is yes. We are getting back to normal but that unfortunately means we’re also living with the problems that existed before COVID."

Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. 

Email: cwilson2@gannettnj.com 

Twitter: @colleenallreds