Lack of U.S. funding stymies N.Y.-N.J. rail tunnel construction

Backhoes excavate in a hole reserved for a rail tunnel during the early days of construction at the Hudson Yards redevelopment site on Manhattan's west side in New York.

In 2014, backhoes excavate in a hole reserved for a rail tunnel, left, during the early days of construction at the Hudson Yards redevelopment site on Manhattan's west side in New York. A concrete box was planned 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 Gateway Project to construct two rail tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York could take until 2030 to complete. But it might not even begin if federal funding is not forthcoming.

The states have agreed to contribute a total of 50 percent of the construction costs, but the U.S. government has made no commitment for the other half.

“We are ready to begin construction of a new portal bridge to replace the antiquated swing bridge over the Hackensack River that is the worst choke point on the Northeast Corridor,” said New Jersey state Sen. Bob Gordon during a hearing on the plan in Trenton Monday. “But the funding isn’t there yet.”

It would be “commuter Armageddon” if one of the existing tunnels had to be closed to repair damage caused by flooding from Superstorm Sandy five years ago, said Gordon, D-Bergen.

Gateway Program Development Corporation director John Porcari told lawmakers it is the most urgent infrastructure project in America.

“No other project seeks to address the multiple single points of failure that put 10 percent of America’s gross domestic product at risk every day,” he said.

Without U.S. funding for the $27 billion project, Porcari said, there is no plan B.

“I have never seen a project of national significance that didn’t have a federal funding component,” he said. “It’s simply beyond the capacity, even the combined capacity, of the two states, New Jersey and New York, to do on their own.”

Tom Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association, said delays in getting the project underway will make it more expensive.

“Often costs on these projects escalate at about 5 percent a year. Every single year that we delay building Gateway adds roughly a billion dollars to the cost of the project,” he said. “Every month we delay adds almost $100 million.”

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