NJ.com- Federal financing could be in place in two years to build two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River that would augment the crumbling 106-year old rail tunnels used daily by commuters, said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Agreements for federal funding of the Gateway Project could be in place by 2019, with construction starting shortly after then, Schumer said at a press conference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez , D-N.J., Amtrak and Port Authority officials Friday morning.
Amtrak's Gateway Project would build two new tunnels under the Hudson River, a Penn Station south annex, replace and build a second Portal Bridge, and build additional tracks in New Jersey and a loop for Bergen County trains to travel to New York.
Preliminary estimates are for Gateway to cost $23 billion, a number that that could change after preliminary engineering and design is done, Amtrak officials said. A deal between the federal government and New York and New Jersey to fund Gateway was brokered last November.
Funding Gateway will be done by stringing together a network of federal grants, low-interest loans and state funding.
A funding agreement to build a new Portal Bridge north could be signed by federal officials in March 2018, with construction tentatively beginning in July 2018, Schmuer said. The new bridge, estimated to cost $940 million, is designed and ready to build. It is considered a bottleneck on the busy Northeast Corridor Line and causes delays when it gets stuck in the open position.
The Portal Bridge is a 100-year old swing bridge that carries the Northeast Corridor line over the Hackensack River in Kearny. It causes delays when it gets stuck in the open position.
"Everything is now in place. Everything is aligned for the money to flow," said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. "The application for funding is bullet-proof."
No timetable was given for when the tunnels could be open for rail traffic.
The Hudson River tunnels have been included on the "President's Permitting Dashboard" which allows the same kind of fast tracking that the Port Authority used to speed up reconstruction of the Bayonne Bridge. That could save one year on an environmental review that is under way and "billions of dollars" off the final Gateway cost, Schumer said.
Gateway is the first project to apply for a federal "Emerging Projects" loan, allowing it to tap into a $35 billion railroad loan program, Foxx said. He said future progress will be up to the states.
"We've carried the ball to the 50-yard line," Foxx said. "Every yard beyond will require work by our state and local partners."
Both Gateway and Portal Bridge were included for consideration this summer under the federal New Starts program, which was the same program that provided $ 3 billion in funding for the ARC tunnel project, canceled by Gov. Chris Christie in October 2010.
Unlike ARC, Gateway cannot be stopped by one public official pulling the plug, Schumer said.
He cautioned that any official who tries to derail the regional project will face "dire consequences."
The Gateway Project will require matching funds from New York and New Jersey. Some of that funding is coming from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which will meet next Thursday to take up Gateway items that have the "full-throated endorsement" of the governors of both states, said Patrick Foye, executive director.
While he didn't elaborate what those items are, some of the funding will come from the Port Authority's 10-year capital plan, under a commitment made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Schumer said. The authority's board of commissioners still has to revise that plan to include projects such as Gateway, a new Midtown bus terminal and replacing the Newark Airport monorail, which aren't in the current plan.
"We need the states of New York and New Jersey, working through the Port Authority, to come through," Menendez said. "Only then will Gateway become reality."