Nation's Most Important Rail Project Downrated by the FTA

Amtrak's Gateway Program to replace a century-old rail tunnel and bridge from New Jersey to Manhattan, both bottlenecks on the busy Northeast Corridor, did not score well on an evaluation by the Federal Transit Administration for grant funding.
February 20, 2018, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Paul Sableman

"In its annual funding recommendations report [pdf] issued this month to Congress on the Capital Investment Grants program, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) this week rated both the Hudson Tunnel and the Portal North Bridge replacement projects as 'medium-low' in priority for federal grants," according to a clipping by Progressive Railroading on Feb. 15. "Medium-low is second-lowest rating on a five-point scale that helps determine whether federal funding is warranted."

The projects are key elements of the Amtrak Gateway program. The FTA's latest ratings indicated the Trump administration's shift away from the Obama administration's support for federal help in paying for the projects, Gateway program supporters said.

"In case it wasn't clear before, President Trump today tried to land another death blow to Gateway, by having his Federal Transit Administration vindictively and inexplicably downgrade the project in order to cut off critical federal funding," said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) in a press release.

Under President Obama, the states of New York, New Jersey and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey came to an agreement: the states and the Port Authority would fund roughly half the $20 billion program, though costs vary depending on which projects are included. However, that agreement came into question when Trump administration officials signaled in December that they weren't happy with the financing aspects of the agreement.

The cost for the new tunnel under the Hudson River and rehabbing the existing one, which ultimately would provide four tracks between New York Penn Station and Secaucus, New Jersey, would cost $12.7 billion.

The Port Authority announced on Feb. 15 that it would contribute $44 million to "to keep the project moving," reported Dan Rivoli of the Daily News, "so that when federal funding materializes, there will be no delay in construction."

However, with the low rating from the FTA, and much competition, unlike the agreement reached under former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, there are no assurances that those funds will be forthcoming soon.

"Under Trump's plan, however, Gateway will have to compete with other projects across the country for a limited amount of grant money intended to leverage state, local and private-sector investment," report Curtis Tate and Herb Jackson for NorthJersey.com on Feb. 13.

The first blow to replace the Hudson Tunnel occurred Oct. 7, 2010, when New Jersey's from Republican governor, Chris Christie, scrapped the project. The second blow was delivered by Hurricane Sandy two year later when it flooded the existing tunnel, causing extensive damage.

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Published on Thursday, February 15, 2018 in Progressive Railroading
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