FTA doles out low rating for Hudson River tunnel project, continues to rule out funding

Written by Kyra Senese, managing editor
Hudson River tunnel project
Proposed route for the Hudson River tunnel project | Image courtesy of FTA

The $13 billion Hudson River tunnel project, aimed at building a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, is again facing funding problems after federal authorities announced a rating that means  the project remains “ineligible for critical grant funding.”

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released ratings March 15 for infrastructure projects throughout the U.S. Those ratings determine what funding sources are available to any given project. According to the Associated Press (AP), the agency rated the Hudson River tunnel project at medium-low, which gives the project the same rating the FTA gave it months ago.

FTA guidelines mandate that projects with the medium-low rating are ineligible for Capital Investment Grants, AP reports said.

The tunnel project partners, which include New Jersey Transit, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Amtrak, have been working to secure such grants, but the project remains ineligible for the funding.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), working with the Gateway Program Development Corporation (GDC), New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ TRANSIT) and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), proposed the construction of a two-track heavy rail tunnel along the Northeast Corridor from the Bergen Palisades in New Jersey to Manhattan that would directly serve Penn Station in New York, according to the FTA.

The project includes three primary elements: the Hudson Yards right-of-way preservation project, the Hudson Tunnel, and the rehabilitation and modernization of the existing North River tunnel.

The project is part of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) Gateway Program, which the FTA defines as several strategic rail infrastructure investments intended to improve current service and create new capacity.

The existing 106-year old tunnel is owned by Amtrak, with both NJ Transit and Amtrak operating about 450 trains during each weekday through the tunnel. FTA documents explain that in addition to safety and reliability concerns, the project is also intended to preserve the current functionality of Amtrak’s NEC service and NJ Transit’s commuter rail service.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez reportedly said he believes the latest rating is “ludicrous,” AP reports state.

New York and New Jersey Democratic congressional delegations have also suggested that the Trump administration may be intentionally holding up funding for the tunnel for political purposes. At the same time, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) has reportedly said the project requires additional financial commitments from both of the states.

“The U.S. DOT is further delaying this critical infrastructure project and putting the region and the entire national economy in jeopardy,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement. “Only a dysfunctional Washington could reject $6 billion in state funding to rebuild federally-owned tunnels, which are in dire condition.”

New Jersey and New York both intend to rely on long-term federal loans to fund 50 percent of the project, which AP reports would be between $6 billion and $7 billion. The states would expect the federal government to finance the other half of the costs using grants.

According to AP, the DOT has stated that it believes the states are asking for too much funding from the government, and on March 15 stated that the most recent financial plan proposed by project organizers “did not address the key concerns identified by FTA in last’s year rating.”

The tunnel in question operates at peak capacity to accommodate nearly 200,000 passengers daily. AP reports that the tunnel has an aging electrical system and crumbling concrete walls that were damaged during Superstorm Sandy of 2012. This damage led Amtrak, the operator of the tunnel, to make the estimate that one of the tunnel’s two tubes could fail roughly within the next decade.

Such a tunnel failure could reduce peak service by 75 percent and affect the rail corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

Last summer, RT&S reported that animations had been released depicting what the completed tunnel project might look like.

Categories: Bridge/Retaining Walls/Tunnels, Commuter/Regional, News
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