The long-delayed, $16 billion project to repair the existing Amtrak tunnels under the Hudson River and build a new two-track tunnel is about to move forward under the control of the Gateway Development Commission, which became the project sponsor in September.
The Hudson tunnels went into service in 1910 and today carry Amtrak intercity trains from Washington, D.C., to New York and Boston, as well as New Jersey Transit commuter trains. Before the pandemic, 200,000 passengers a day passed through these tunnels on two tracks.
Plans to add capacity with an additional tunnel go back to at least 2009, when work began on a project killed a year later by then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But Superstorm Sandy in 2012 flooded the tunnels with saltwater, damaging electrical and mechanical equipment and creating cracks in the concrete walls.
Planning for the current project began in 2016 but went nowhere during the Trump administration. With a more Amtrak-friendly Biden White House and money from the bipartisan infrastructure law, the tunnel project looks to be moving ahead. “The hope is that we can keep it on a steady track now,” said Brian Fritsch, communications director for the Regional Plan Association, a non-profit civic organization. “We've got great alignment between the states and the federal government for the project.”
Legislation enacted separately by New York and New Jersey created the GDC in 2019. The commissioners include representatives of both states and Amtrak, which owns the tunnel and the rail line.
The latest cost estimate by the GDC, released in August, is $2 billion higher than the previous estimate from 2021. In a press release, the GDC said it would seek additional federal grants available under the bipartisan infrastructure law.
Major construction of the new tunnel should begin by the fall of 2024 and end in 2035. After completing the new tunnel, the GDC will spend three years rehabilitating the existing tunnels, ultimately doubling track capacity to reduce delays and increase service.
“We did a comprehensive and transparent and conservative analysis of the cost and schedule for the tunnel project,” said Stephen Sigmund, chief of public outreach for the Gateway program.
By taking on the role of project sponsor, Sigmund explained that the GDC is responsible for pulling together the funding, hiring contractors and delivering the project.
“This project is crucial for modernizing the Northeast Corridor,” said Liam Blank, policy and communications manager for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit policy and advocacy organization.
Clarification: We have changed this story's headline and lead sentence to clarify that the Gateway Development Commission is overseeing the Hudson tunnel project that will serve Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains.