Gateway Tunnel gets full funding: ‘We’re about to build a portal of opportunity’

Elected officials attempt to explain importance, impact of greatest infrastructure project in generations

It’s easy to talk about the numbers.

How the Full Funding Grant Agreement that the Gateway Development Commission signed Monday with the Federal Transit Administration provides the final $6.88 billion in federal funding for the Hudson Tunnel Project.

How the approximately 95,000 high-paying jobs the tunnel project is expected to bring to the region will generate nearly $20 billion in economic activity.

Or how the addition of two new tunnels will enable the system to handle twice the number of riders it does today — going from the current 450 trains a day on New Jersey Transit and Amtrak to 900 trains a day, nearly 500,000 daily passenger trips.

It’s easy to talk about the timeline, too.

How work on the project to add two new tunnels is expected to be done by 2035 — with the rehabilitation of the two that are more than a century old being completed a few years after that, enabling the system to expand usage throughout the Northeast Corridor.

Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Of course, none of those details fully describe the impact the Gateway Tunnel project will have on the region and the country. That was the challenge of the more than half-dozen speakers at Monday morning’s ceremony.

“We’re about to build a portal of opportunity — not just portals of concrete and rebar,” Gateway Development Commission CEO Kris Kolluri said.

Tony Coscia, a Gateway co-chair, the chairman of Amtrak and one of the people who has been pushing the project for more than a decade, agreed.

“This project is really significant, not just to New York and New Jersey, but to the whole country,” he said, noting the impact the Northeast Corridor has on the national Gross Domestic Product (more than 20%).

“This project is not just about New Jersey commuters getting into New York or New York commuters getting out of New York City … it’s about the importance of mobility to a region,” he said.

Of course, the impact in New Jersey is overwhelming. Gov. Phil Murphy talked about having more trains and more one-seat rides for commuters — and how that will greatly impact the quality of life of residents.

“This is a game changer (for) the mom and dad who want to get home and have dinner with their kids or help them on their math homework,” he said. “I think we need to think of this, not just in the wild, big number reality of what it will do for this region, for both of our great states, but also the lives that will be transformed.”

All of the speakers shared one common sentiment: President Joe Biden deserves the most praise for the project — and former President Donald Trump made a strong effort to stop it, when he was in office.

If there’s a push to get Biden to withdraw from the race, you would not have known it Monday.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) both heaped praise on Biden.

“If there’s any reason why we’re here today, it’s because, when President Joe Biden was elected, he said, ‘This is the No. 1 infrastructure project in the United States of America,’” Booker said.

Murphy — and nearly everyone else — urged patience.

This project will not be built in a day or a year — or even a decade.

But, after so many delays and cancellations, the project now as it a point of no return, Schumer said.

“After many false starts and obstacles placed in our way, Gateway is full speed ahead, all systems go,” he said.

It is because of the efforts of Schumer and numerous governors and transportation officials.

Coscia said the determination of so many to get the project done — when so many others seemingly were in the way — was the key.

“There’s a difference between complaining about doing something and actually doing something about it,” he said. “There’s also a difference between accepting legacy problems that evolved over decades and doing something about those legacy problems. There’s a difference between blaming people for a problem and not accepting responsibility and doing something about that.

“Today is really about doing something.

“We’re not going to build this overnight. It’s going to take some time.”

Slowly but surely, Coscia said.

“With every shovel of dirt, with every ton of steel, with every yard of concrete, we move closer to proving that we can do something about making the condition better.”

Those efforts, he said, do more than just build a tunnel. They will help all transportation agencies in the region work to find solutions to today’s problems while working toward a better future. It’s about serving the riders who need it most, Coscia said.

“It’s about stepping up and making things happen,” he said. “Today is a day where we’re celebrating that happening. And all of us are going to benefit from it.”

Numerous New Jersey officials had thoughts about the full funding agreement.

  • U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez (D-8th Dist.): “This is not just the largest federal investment ever in a mass transit project, but a reflection of our unwavering dedication to investing in our critical infrastructure, while improving the daily commutes of millions in the 8th District, New Jersey and beyond. Today is a great day, but the work continues, and we will remain steadfast in our support of this project until it is completed.”
  • U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.): “Today marks an extraordinary milestone for our region, as we move full steam ahead with the Gateway Tunnel project. With the completion of this $12 billion federal investment, we will finally replace this century-old tunnel, significantly enhancing connectivity between New York and New Jersey. I fought for this funding to eliminate chronic delays, boost service reliability and support the 200,000 commuters who rely on this train line daily. It’s a huge win for our community and demonstrates our delegation’s unwavering commitment to making this the most modern and efficient rail line in the nation.”
  • Balpreet Grewal-Virk, New Jersey GDC commissioner and co-chair: “Every day, hundreds of thousands of commuters travel between New Jersey and New York. The Hudson Tunnel Project will ensure these commuters have the reliable rail service they deserve, setting the stage for long-term economic growth on both sides of the Hudson. Finalizing the FFGA and the RRIF loans for this project is a key milestone that enables us to confidently say there is a light at the end of the tunnel for commuters struggling with unpredictable service.”
  • Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole: “Gateway is a project that has enormous consequences for the millions of riders who will benefit from it, and it will be a significant driver of economic growth for the entire New Jersey-New York region. The Port Authority is committed to continue working with our federal and local partners, including through our funding support announced today, in making the nation’s most vital and impactful rail project a reality.”
  • NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett: “Today marks the culmination of securing funding for a project that stands as the most consequential undertaking of our generation and for the next hundred years in this region. The commitment from all levels of government — local, state and federal — underscores the profound understanding of this project’s significance. As a primary user of the current tunnels, no one knows better than NJ Transit and our riders about the desperate need for the new tunnels.”