Hudson River rail tunnel plan likely won’t affect funding for NJ transportation projects

 Last year,  construction of a rail tunnel, left, continues at the Hudson Yards redevelopment site on Manhattan's west side in New York. Amtrak is constructing an 800-foot-long concrete box inside the project to preserve space for a tunnel from Newark to New York City that would allow it to double rail capacity across the Hudson River. (AP file photo)

Last year, construction of a rail tunnel, left, continues at the Hudson Yards redevelopment site on Manhattan's west side in New York. Amtrak is constructing an 800-foot-long concrete box inside the project to preserve space for a tunnel from Newark to New York City that would allow it to double rail capacity across the Hudson River. (AP file photo)

The states of New Jersey and New York are asking the federal government to split the cost of a proposed new rail tunnel connecting northern New Jersey to New York City, providing a backup route for the current, 105-year-old tunnel that is prone to frequent delays.

In a letter to President Barack Obama earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “[i]f the federal government will provide grants to pay for half of the cost of the project, the Port Authority, New York and New Jersey will take responsibility for developing a funding plan for the other half.”

But with a $20 billion price tag, would the Hudson River tunnel project cut into any federal funding available for other New Jersey transportation projects?

Probably not, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow Robert Puentes, who said the new tunnel would have such national significance that it likely would not be considered a typical transportation project.

“It’s a bit of a hybrid. It’s not a straight transit project insofar as it has a heavy component with intercity rail in the form of Amtrak,” said Puentes. “It has a peculiar and unique governance structure with Port Authority of New York and New Jersey having a role, with both states then having a role in the Port Authority.”

Although the federal government has not yet committed to funding half of the Hudson River rail tunnel project, the money would likely not come from the same pot of money that funds more typical transportation projects across the country, such as a new light rail line or bus fleet.

That is “a competitive grant program with some pretty standard metrics for ridership, and cost effectiveness, and things like this,” said Puentes.

“The Hudson River project is a different animal entirely. They may be able to figure out a way to do some kind of partnerships, but I don’t think it’s going to come into competition with some of the other transit projects.”

Damaged during Superstorm Sandy, the current rail tunnel between North Jersey and New York City frequently causes delays for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak riders.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.