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Gateway Program Projects Take First Step Toward Qualifying For Major USDOT Funding

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hudson Tunnel and Portal North Projects Enter First Phase of “New Starts” Grant Program

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced today that two major infrastructure projects in the New York City area are now one step closer to qualifying for federal funding.  The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has moved the Hudson Tunnel Project and Portal North Bridge – both critical elements of the Gateway Program – into the Project Development process for New Starts, a type of Capital Investment Grant available through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

“Building on our previous investments to date, the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking a concrete step toward making a substantial federal investment in the Hudson Tunnel and Portal North Bridge projects, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work closely with our partners in New York and New Jersey to make a new rail tunnel a reality,” said Secretary Foxx.  “The existing Hudson tunnel is more than 100 years old and was badly damaged by Super Storm Sandy, and if it fails, it would effectively shut down passenger rail service from Manhattan to New Jersey and the southern portion of the Northeast Corridor.”

Project Development is the first phase that these projects will be required to complete before a construction grant could be awarded.  In this phase, the Hudson Tunnel Project and Portal North Bridge will move forward with identifying a specific development plan and, in the case of the Hudson Tunnel Project, completing the environmental review process.  The Portal North Bridge has already completed the necessary environmental review.  The move also authorizes the project sponsor, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Port Authority) and its partners Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT to begin incurring costs related to the environmental review and engineering and design activities.

“Building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson to allow for the repair of the ancient and Sandy-damaged tunnels is critical for the countless commuters, shoppers, and tourists who are the lifeblood of our regional economy,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer.  “That is why the U.S. Department of Transportation placing the Gateway Hudson Tunnel program into the Project Development process for New Starts is a huge boost to the project.  New Starts will provide a steady and predictable source of federal funds to keep this effort moving down the tracks.”

“It’s been almost a year since commuter delays caused by Hudson tunnel repairs gave us a glimpse of what will happen if we do nothing to invest in this critical infrastructure,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee overseeing America’s rail infrastructure. “Today’s important announcement shows continued progress by the state and federal partners as the Gateway Program continues to move closer to providing much-needed relief to New Jersey commuters.  The fact is, investments like this in the Hudson Tunnel and Portal Bridge are not only vital to the safety and efficiency of our nation’s surface transportation network, but they also power the engine that drives our region’s economy while boosting job creation.  I stand committed to continue working with our partners in moving this vital project forward.”

“As Ranking Member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee, which has direct oversight of the New Starts program, I’ve seen firsthand the role New Starts plays in bringing public transportation projects to fruition around the country,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez.  “It’s time to put those dollars to work for the people of New Jersey and our region.  Entry into New Starts is a key step towards building new Hudson River Tunnels and a new Portal Bridge, and I appreciate the U.S. Department of Transportation’s leadership in prioritizing these projects.”

“Acceptance into New Starts is an important step forward for the Gateway Program,” said Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony M. Coscia.  “Amtrak is a committed partner in this crucial effort that will help preserve the existing level of service on the Northeast Corridor, and deliver a more reliable and convenient passenger rail system for the 21st century and beyond.”

“Today’s action and bipartisan cooperation is great news for New Jersey taxpayers and commuters,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said. “It marks the beginning of a fairly funded Gateway project that will strengthen critical transportation infrastructure, generate billions of dollars in economic growth and create jobs for people in this region, without fear that our residents will be left paying an undue share of the cost. I look forward to helping lead this project forward with our partners across the Hudson and in Washington.”

“Last fall, we established a financing framework to fund one of the most important transportation projects in the country - a new Hudson River rail tunnel.  I applaud the Port Authority for initiating an application for federal grant money to begin implementing our framework and appreciate the USDOT prioritizing our application. This is a critical first step in providing the billions of federal dollars needed for this project,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “In partnership with Senators Schumer and Booker and the federal government, I look forward to revitalizing our tunnel system to ensure it reflects the modern demands of the region.”

Completing the Gateway Program will require unprecedented coordination and cooperation within the federal government and with external partners.  At USDOT, the Build America Transportation Investment Center (BATIC) has led this effort and will continue to support the Gateway Program as the project sponsors work to secure a viable funding and financing strategy.  The USDOT has been working closely with partners in New York and New Jersey to accelerate progress on the Gateway Program.  It received applications from the to advance the two Gateway projects into Project Development on May 31, 2016, and the determination to move forward was made within six weeks.

Hudson Tunnel Project

The Hudson Tunnel Project is a new, two-track heavy rail tunnel along the Northeast Corridor from the Bergen Palisades in New Jersey to Manhattan that will directly serve Penn Station New York.  It consists of three major elements: the Hudson Yards right-of-way preservation project, the Hudson Tunnel, and the rehabilitation and modernization of the existing North River tunnel.  Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT operate approximately 450 trains carrying over 200,000 passenger trips each weekday through the 106-year old North River Tunnel.  Construction of a new Hudson Tunnel will enable closure of the existing tunnel for reconstruction, and once renovations are complete, the reopening will greatly increase rail reliability and operating flexibility and will provide greater redundancy in the event of malfunction.

Portal North Bridge Project

The Portal North Bridge Project entails the construction of a new, two-track fixed structure bridge across the Hackensack River in Hudson County, New Jersey along the Northeast Corridor (NEC).  The existing moveable swing span bridge has only 23 feet of vertical clearance above the mean high water level and must pivot open to allow maritime traffic to pass through, closing the bridge to rail traffic and interrupting operations on the NEC for both Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT.  Additionally, the “miter rails,” which allow the rails to disengage and the bridge to open and close, permanently restrict speeds on the bridge to 60 miles per hour, while trains can operate at 90 miles per hour on adjacent portions of the NEC.  These conditions create bottlenecks along the NEC, especially during peak commute hours.  The new bridge will provide enough vertical clearance to accommodate current and forecasted maritime traffic and allow trains to operate at higher speeds. 

USDOT Capital Investment Grant (CIG) Program

The Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program is FTA’s primary grant program for funding major transit capital investments, including heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, and bus rapid transit.  It is a discretionary grant program, unlike most others in government.  Instead of an annual call for applications and selection of awardees by the FTA, the law requires that projects seeking CIG funding complete a series of steps over several years to be eligible for funding.  For New Starts like the two Gateway projects, the law requires completion of two phases in advance of receipt of a construction grant agreement – Project Development and Engineering.

Build America Transportation Investment Center (BATIC)

USDOT’s Build America Transportation Investment Center (BATIC), which was announced in 2014, has expanded the Department’s ability to meet the needs of the nation’s transportation system.  BATIC serves as a single point of contact and coordination for states, municipalities, and project sponsors looking to utilize federal transportation expertise, apply for federal transportation credit programs, and explore ways to access private capital in public private partnerships (P3s).  Since BATIC’s formation, USDOT has closed over $8 billion in financing to support $21 billion in projects.