Gateway Commission submits $12.3B project plan — another big step in process

With so many “we’re-really-close-but” moments with the Gateway Tunnel project, it’s easy to overlook some of the milestones in the effort.

Don’t be mistaken, Friday was another big one.

The Hudson Tunnel Project should qualify for advancement to the next phase of the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants Program, based on a new financial plan submitted Friday by the Gateway Program Project Partners, officials said.

The project, which now projects to cost $12.3 billion, includes the construction of a new two-track rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River, the comprehensive rehabilitation of the existing 110-year-old North River Tunnel, and the completion of the third and final section of the Hudson Yards Concrete Casing.

The new financial plan recalculates and strengthens financial commitments by the project partners based on an updated cost estimate accounting for the four-year delay in the project during the previous presidential administration.

The hope is that major construction on the new tunnel can begin in August 2023.

Gov. Phil Murphy was obviously thrilled.

“The Hudson Tunnel Project is of the utmost importance to the economic well-being of New Jersey, our region and our country,” he said. “The updated financial plan that is being submitted today exhibits the commitment of our state and that of our partners to the commencement and completion of the single largest critical infrastructure project in the United States.

“We look forward to working with the (President Joe) Biden administration, Amtrak, New York and the Port Authority (of New York and New Jersey) to begin construction and to provide reliable rail service while creating tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic benefits to the New Jersey-New York area.”

The estimated cost of $12.3 billion includes $10.1 billion for the new tunnel and $2.2 billion for full rehabilitation of the existing tunnel. The project’s construction cost estimate is down from the $12.7 billion cost estimate in 2017, despite a four-year delay. However, it represents an increase from last year due to time-driven escalation and the continuing need to push back the calendar for beginning major construction.

Overall, the project partners have taken more than $2 billion out of the cost estimate, including $1.4 billion based on advanced design work in the 2019 filing and more than $900 million in property acquisition estimates since Amtrak was able to acquire a major Manhattan property in recent weeks, moving quickly after the U.S. Department of Transportation finalized its environmental review under the new administration.

The partners also committed to aggressively managing cost and schedule during the procurement and construction of the project, incentivizing contractors and seeking opportunities for early work to further mitigate cost and schedule risk.

Balpreet Grewal-Virk, Gateway Commission co-chair and New Jersey commissioner, said the project cannot start soon enough.

“This financial plan is a major step toward finally putting shovels in the ground and getting to work building the rail infrastructure we need for the economy of the future,” she said.

The plan seeks approximately $5.6 billion in FTA Capital Investment Grant funding, or approximately 44% of the CIG-eligible project costs. It is supported by more than $6 billion in commitments toward estimated construction costs by the state of New York, state of New Jersey and the Port Authority to support the commission’s borrowing of low-interest federal loans.

Amtrak has strengthened and demonstrated its commitment to contributing $1.4 billion toward the project’s construction costs and has moved quickly to acquire real property in Manhattan for the project. The states of New Jersey and New York both provided strengthened commitment plans for making support payments to repay the low-interest federal loans in the plan.

Amtrak Chair Tony Coscia, who also serves as a Gateway Commission co-chair, said Amtrak is eager to do its part.

“Amtrak is pleased to have upheld its commitment to the Hudson Tunnel Project by completing the acquisition of New York property needed for a future ventilation and emergency egress shaft,” he said. “Amtrak remains confident in the success of our partners and in the project’s success. Now is the time to move this project to construction once and for all.”