Monday, October 17, 2016

Gateway: Paradise by the Permitting Dashboard lights?

Written by  William C. Vantuono, editor-in-chief, Railway Age
Gateway: Paradise by the Permitting Dashboard lights? Amtrak

Amtrak's Gateway Program to construct two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River to bring the number of tracks connecting New Jersey and New York City from two to four is making steady progress.

The most recent development, announced Oct. 14, involves the U.S. Department of Transportation's addition of the aptly named Hudson Tunnel Project to the "President's Permitting Dashboard," an online tool for federal agencies, project developers and interested members of the public to track the federal government's permitting and review process for large or complex infrastructure projects.

"The Gateway Program partners previously announced a commitment of the necessary resources to expedite environmental reviews, but today's announcement that the project will be listed on the Dashboard will ensure that the established schedule is delivered on time," Amtrak said. "Adding the project to the President's Dashboard will make the Hudson Tunnel Project a top priority for the multitude of agencies involved in the review process. The Permitting Dashboard is one element of a larger, government-wide effort to streamline the federal permitting and review process while increasing transparency, in addition to improving environmental and community outcomes."

Amtrak listed the following developments:

  • Hudson Yards Concrete Casing (pictured): Amtrak, working with the Long Island Rail Road, Related Companies and NJ Transit, has successfully preserved the right-of-way under a portion of the Hudson Yards development on the West Side of Manhattan by advancing construction of the underground concrete casing that can house future rail infrastructure. Preserving the right-of-way maintains the option for a future tunnel to connect directly to Penn Station New York. The USDOT provided $235 million in federal Sandy resiliency funds for the project, the first phase of actual construction of a new Hudson River Tunnel. The casing now extends from 10th Avenue through the western edge of the 11th Avenue viaduct.
  • Federal Pathways to Credit – Emerging Projects Agreement: The USDOT announced the release of a new credit planning tool, in conjunction with the establishment of the Build America Bureau, under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The FAST Act made key reforms to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, a $35 billion federal loan program, and the Bureau has built on the reforms to create an Emerging Projects Agreement that eligible partners can now utilize. The Emerging Projects Agreement allows the USDOT to offer technical assistance and focused USDOT credit resources for complex, large-scale projects seeking low-cost federal credit. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says he is "optimistic that this will enable big, ambitious projects to get a head start on plans while project sponsors continue to assemble the financing packages necessary to utilize federal credit programs." A fact sheet is available at
  • Federal Capital Improvement Grants (New Starts and Core Capacity): Significant progress has occurred in securing federal grant funding for the Hudson Tunnel Project and Portal North Bridge (Phase 1 of the Gateway Program). In May 2016, the Gateway partners applied for these projects to be included in the "Project Development" process for New Starts, a type of Capital Investment Grant available through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Project Development is the first phase that these projects are required to complete before a construction grant can be awarded. In July, USDOT accepted both the Hudson Tunnel Project and Portal North Bridge—critical elements of the Gateway Program—into the New Starts Project Development process, making these projects eligible for FTA funds.

The Hudson Tunnel Project and Portal North Bridge now move forward with identifying specific development plans and, in the case of the Hudson Tunnel Project, completion of the environmental review process. The necessary environmental reviews have already been completed for the Portal North Bridge to receive FTA investment under New Starts. The move also allows costs incurred by Amtrak, NJ Transit and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) related to the environmental review and engineering and design activities to eventually be reimbursed under the FTA program.

On Sept. 2, the Gateway partners submitted a Portal North Bridge Core Capacity rating package to the FTA for evaluation. If the project scores well, it will be included in the USDOT's recommendation for the President's FY18 Budget. Inclusion of Portal North Bridge in the Budget, expected to be released next Spring, "would represent a huge step toward securing significant federal grant funding." Simultaneously, the Gateway partners are advancing engineering and environmental work on the Hudson Tunnel Project with the goal of having that project included in the President's budget in the near future. USDOT invested $55 million into planning for the replacement of the Portal Bridge, and the Hudson Yard's concrete casing project received $235 million in federal funds. The project is now eligible for potentially billions in federal grants and loans. The environmental permitting process as been accelerated.

Gateway Program Timeline:

  • Oct. 29, 2012: Superstorm Sandy hits the New York, New Jersey region causing devastating damage, including inundating the existing North River Tunnels with seawater and expediting the need for major repairs.
  • May 30, 2013: $185 million in federal aid is obtained from the Superstorm Sandy Relief package to begin work on Phase I of the Hudson Yards Right-of-Way Preservation Project, which maintains the option for a future tunnel to connect directly to Penn Station New York.
  • Sept. 23, 2013: Work begins on Phases I and II of the Concrete Casing project between 10th Avenue and the western edge of 11th Avenue in Manhattan. Funding for Phase II provided by $50 million made directly available to Amtrak through the Superstorm Sandy Relief package and a subsequent commitment of $11 million by the LIRR and NJT.
  • Summer 2015: Significant delays occur for passengers in and out of Penn Station as a result of infrastructure failures (chiefly electrical and signal related) in the existing North River Tunnels.
  • August to November, 2015: Formation of the Gateway Development Corporation (GDC) proposed to advance the project. An agreement is forged involving the states of New York and New Jersey and the PANYNJ on the need for significant federal investment and cooperation on equitable project financing and developing a framework to support the Gateway Program. A 50-50, federal-local funding split for the cost of the Gateway Program is proposed. Agreement to create the GDC and share the costs of advancing the Gateway Program is reached. Amtrak and NJT execute an agreement for NJT with the Federal Railroad Administration to commence environmental work on the Hudson Tunnel Project, primarily funded by federal appropriations provided to Amtrak.
  • March 23, 2016: Gateway Program partners announce $70 million in funding, split 50/50 between Amtrak and the PANYNJ, to begin preliminary engineering work on the Hudson Tunnel Project.
  • May 2, 2016: Environmental review commences, with public scoping meetings on Hudson Tunnel Project EIS in New York City on May 17 and Union City, N.J. on May 19.
  • May 31, 2016: Application is entered by the Gateway partners for Hudson Tunnel Project and Portal North Bridge Project for FTA's New Starts Project Development phase.
  • July 11, 2016: Former U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari named interim executive director of the GDC to assist in developing the structure and governance of the Gateway Program.
  • July 14, 2016: Gateway Program projects take the first step toward qualifying for major USDOT funding as Hudson Tunnel and Portal North Projects enter the Project Development phase of the FTA's New Starts grant program.
  • Sept. 2, 2016: Gateway partners submit a Portal North Bridge Core Capacity rating package to the FTA for evaluation. If the project scores well, it will be included in the USDOT's recommendation for the President's FY18 Budget.
  • Oct. 14, 2016: Hudson Tunnel Project included on President's Permitting Dashboard. Substantial completion of the concrete casing through the Eastern Hudson Yard announced.