Biden administration approves a crucial element of Gateway project


After a press conference in Manhattan, the trains are parked on the Hudson Yards site. | Mario Tama / Getty Images

BY DANIELLE MUOIO

Updated


NEW YORK – The Biden government has approved the Environmental Impact Statement for the Hudson Tunnel project. This marks a major milestone in the Gateway program’s multi-year effort to repair tunnels damaged by Superstorm Sandy and expand railroad capacity between New York and New Jersey.

The move will allow the New York and New Jersey agents behind the $ 11.6 billion tunnel project to advance building activities such as real estate acquisitions, engineering and federal design development. In addition, the parties behind the project can apply for federal funds that have not yet been allocated.

“This is a big step for the Northeast and the whole country as these tunnels connect so many people, jobs and businesses,” Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Now we need to make sure that the resources America needs are put in place to deliver the world’s leading infrastructure in this region and in all parts of the country.”

The project, which proponents say is vital to the economic future of the Northeast region, has been pending for years. Gateway officials first submitted a draft environmental impact statement in February 2018, but the Trump administration never approved the federal government. It was delayed by President Donald Trump’s hostility towards the current Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer amid negotiations to finance a wall along the border with Mexico.

The project got a second wind under the more passage-friendly administration of Biden. Buttigieg committed in March to finalizing the environmental impact statement before the end of the second quarter. Schumer, an important proponent of the project, compared the federal government’s renewed commitment to free the project from a “hostage situation”.

“This is crucial for New York’s future and it was vengeful, petty and mean for Trump to block it and now we are moving forward,” Schumer told POLITICO. “It’s probably the most important public works project in America. If these tunnels fail and can’t be used, 25 percent of our economy from Boston to Washington will be at risk.”

Schumer said there is “more than enough money to run the project,” and Biden’s proposed budget increases two sources of funding that can go towards Gateway. The budget will provide $ 1.3 billion for Amtrak’s northeast corridor (up from $ 700 million) and $ 2.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s investment grants, he said.

The infrastructure package proposed by Biden also provides 25 billion US dollars for “expanding transit” and 39 billion US dollars for “modernizing the northeast corridor” – both of which can be used by gateway officials, Schumer said. An additional $ 25 billion is proposed for the Transformational Infrastructure Projects Fund.

However, despite the optimistic response on Friday, there was public disagreement over exactly how to move the project forward this week.

As currently planned, Gateway officials would first build a new tunnel under the Hudson River and build two tracks into Penn Station before starting repairs to the existing passages damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Once completed, the four tracks would provide additional rail capacity and redundancy.

But last December, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo touted a report saying the existing tunnels under the Hudson River could be repaired without taking them out of service. On Thursday, Cuomo re-pleaded for federal officials to reconsider the approach, threatening to withhold funds if not – referring to how New York, at his urging, has successfully repaired the L-Train underground tunnel in operation have.

“I won’t pay unless it’s a smarter, efficient and effective process,” Cuomo said at a press conference Thursday. “And if the federal government wants to do stupid, they can do stupid with their money. But we will not be foolish with our money. “

“We’re going back to the L-train tunnel and I’ve defied the bureaucracy and pettiness there, and I’ll do the same thing again with the Amtrak people,” added Cuomo, referring to a decision by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority . what he effectively controls.

At a press conference on Friday, Gateway officials downplayed the notion that Cuomo’s comments could threaten the project and advocated that it was cost-effective.

Steve Cohen, a Cuomo officer serving as chairman of the Gateway Program Development Corp. Acting, said Cuomo’s recent remarks show why he is “the country’s greatest infrastructure governor and perhaps for the past 75 years”.

“He’s dull, he’s direct, and he wants to get things done,” Cohen said. “And he wants to make them efficient – he wants to adopt new technologies and new techniques.”

Still, Amtrak officials said they would prefer to move ahead with the originally planned plan. New Jersey Transit previously spoke out against Cuomo’s approach.

“There are very strong facts to support the position we have taken and, in fact, those facts have been determined from all of the push and debate,” said Tony Coscia, chairman of the Amtrak board of directors.

The Biden administration has approved the original approach in the environmental impact statement.

“Due to the importance of the North River Tunnel for the essential commuter and intercity rail traffic between New Jersey and New York City, the renovation of the existing North River Tunnel must be carried out without significant delays in commuter and intercity rail traffic,” says the EIS . “Therefore, these in-house rehabilitation approaches would not serve the purpose and necessity of the project.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy welcomed the approval on Friday.

“Today’s action is an important step forward in building rail infrastructure that will be reliable for decades to come,” said Murphy. “We look forward to working with our regional and federal partners to complete the Hudson Tunnel project and advance the Gateway program to provide much-needed assistance to commuters and businesses in New Jersey and New York.”

Cuomo welcomed the news despite his recent remarks.

“The president and his team have been steadfast champions for New York from day one,” Cuomo said in a statement on Friday. “It should be clear to every American by now that this government is serious about implementing the vision behind its bold infrastructure agenda.” “”

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