Gateway Project 2020 accomplishments

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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The North River Tunnel under the Hudson River connects New York and New Jersey and carries Amtrak & NJ TRANSIT passengers making 200,000 daily trips.
Gateway Program Development Corporation

In January, Editor-in-Chief Bill Wilson reported on the prospect of funding being made available to get the Gateway Project off the ground. Now that President Biden is in office and Pete Buttigieg has been sworn in as Secretary of Transportation, the rail-friendly administration may well decide to provide some serious financial support.

RT&S has been reporting on the Gateway Project for several years, and we thought that a review of the project’s accomplishments in 2020 would be worthwhile. The remainder of this article provides some details around the project, then highlights the 2020 work.

Two of the key components of the Gateway Project are the Portal North Bridge project and the Hudson Tunnel project.

Portal North Bridge Project

The Portal North Bridge Project will replace the current, functionally obsolete Portal Bridge – a century-old two-track, railroad swing bridge spanning the Hackensack River between Secaucus and Kearny, New Jersey – with a new, high-level, two-track fixed span. The new bridge will increase rail transit capacity by an estimated 11%, and significantly improve service reliability by replacing the movable span, which interrupts operations and is prone to mechanical failures, and is the current cause of frequent delays. The Project is fully designed and permitted. Early construction work began in Fall 2017.

The Portal Bridge is a railroad bridge over the Hackensack River in northeastern New Jersey, United States, just west of Secaucus Junction. It is a two-track, moveable swing-span between the towns of Kearny and Secaucus owned and operated by Amtrak as part of the Northeast Corridor and also used by New Jersey Transit. Photo courtesy of Gateway Program Development Corporation

A rendering of the future Portal North Bridge which will be much higher off the river, allowing boats to pass without having to open & close. Photo courtesy of Gateway Program Development Corporation

Hudson Tunnel Project

The Hudson Tunnel Project is currently in the environmental review process, and includes two components:

  1. the construction of a new two-track Hudson River rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan that will directly serve PSNY;
  2. and the rehabilitation of the century-old existing North River Tunnel, which incurred serious damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The North River Tunnel is a critical link in the region’s trans-Hudson commuting system, and the Hudson Tunnel Project is urgently needed. A closure of just one tube could reduce capacity by as much as 75%, and force tens of thousands of commuters and travelers into other modes of travel, pushing them on to already congested bridges, tunnels and streets in both states. The resulting congestion would lead to massive degradation of air quality throughout the region, with the movement of people and goods to and from the nation’s largest regional economy becoming severely constrained.

When complete, the Project would allow for the rehabilitation of the North River Tunnel without disrupting existing levels of train service, and provide redundant capability and increased operational flexibility for Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT. 

Exposed rebar is seen in the bench wall of the North River Tunnel. Salts & chemicals left behind following Super Storm Sandy have accelerated
concrete deterioration in the tunnel. Photo courtesy of Gateway Program Development Corporation
A view inside the Hudson Yards Concrete Casing. Construction on the first two sections was completed in 2017.
Photo courtesy of Gateway Program Development Corporation

2020 Accomplishments

“With our partners’ help in 2020, GDC remained focused on moving the Gateway projects forward in the face of crisis:

• “The remaining 2 New Jersey Commissioners to the new Gateway Development Commission were confirmed to the Board of Trustees so that moving into 2021 we have a fully constituted 7 member bi-state authority responsible for developing the Gateway Program.

• “Amtrak awarded a $25 million contract, with the support of the Port Authority, and started work to relocate critical utilities out of the path of the Hudson Yards Concrete Casing element of the Hudson Tunnel Project.

• “We continued our engagement with the private sector, undertaking an effort to better understand the geotechnical conditions along the future path of the new tunnel in response to comments received during our Request for Information process. The majority of the 37 geotechnical borings and 11 underground surveys were completed in 2020 generating valuable data that helps reduce uncertainty and mitigate risk for potential bidders.

• “We submitted an updated financial plan to secure Federal funding for the Hudson Tunnel Project, continuing to limit costs as much as possible. The plan is over $1 billion less than in 2018, although we acknowledged almost $300 million in cost escalation during the year while the project partners await a final EIS and Record of Decision from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

• “NJ TRANSIT, in cooperation with Amtrak, continued to advance the Portal North Bridge Project aggressively, receiving an upgraded rating on its financial plan, a commitment for a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) from USDOT, and an initial $248 million toward the project. Once the FFGA is executed, procurement will begin, and the Portal North Bridge Project will move to full construction.”

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