Gateway Tunnel project gets key federal approvals, last hurdles before getting federal funding

The federal approvals essential to building two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River were granted by federal officials Friday — a huge step for the often discussed, yet often delayed Gateway Tunnel project.

Completion of the final Environmental Impact Statement and the issuance of a Record of Decision by the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration is a major milestone for the project, officials with the Gateway Development Commission said.

With a Record of Decision in hand, real estate property acquisition, advanced engineering design, utility relocation and other pre-construction activities can move forward, bringing the project a significant step closer to major construction.

The several-hundred-page EIS document details potential impacts that construction of the project could have on the built and natural environment, including wetlands and coastal zones in the New Jersey Meadowlands and the sea floor of the navigable Hudson River, and details mitigations.

The analysis confirms the purpose and need of the project: to preserve existing Amtrak and New Jersey Transit service between New Jersey and New York and strengthen Northeast Corridor reliability, resiliency and redundancy by building a second rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

Steve Cohen, the New York co-chair of the GDC, said the decision means the project is finally at the starting line, in a spot where the federal funding can now be expected, not just hoped for.

Tony Coscia, a vice chair of the GDC and the chair of Amtrak, said it’s a position the group has prepared for years — only to see its efforts held up by the previous presidential administration.

Balpreet Grewal-Virk, the New Jersey co-chair, said the decision means it’s time to move forward.

“Today’s decision indicates that we can move forward on multiple items, including property acquisition, advanced design, development and other pre-construction activities,” she said. “It means that we’re a step closer to the full funding grant agreement. It means that we’re working toward one of the greatest infrastructure projects. It’s a good day.”

While Cohen said the project is at the starting line, he stressed it only got there due to years of hard work.

“We haven’t been standing still for the last four years,” he said. “We’re at starting line in the sense that we now have a path — we will get federal funding.”

Coscia said he’s encouraged. Years of work have finally paid off.

“When the Gateway initiative in earnest began and the partners that you’re now talking to came together with the idea of advancing this project, they understood that the first part of this is to gain approval, which is logical,” he said.

“The federal government does not want to commit significant funding, or even begin the process of committing significant funding to a project until it believes that that project has gone through a rigorous process of assuring that it is actually in everyone’s best interest — that you’ve looked at alternatives, you’ve looked at environmental consequences, you looked at the impact on the neighboring communities, you’ve determined its financial feasibility. All of those things have to be done.”

Coscia said they have been done for years — only to be unnecessarily held back by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The project, however, seemingly has been a top priority for President Joe Biden’s administration.

Grewal-Virk said she was grateful.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for three years,” she said. “This is a big step in the right direction and the current administration got it done in three months.”