Northeast tunnel project to cost nearly $13B: report

An urgent tunnel project that is needed to rehab the passenger rail connection between New York and New Jersey could cost nearly $13 billion, according to a new environmental study.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) released a draft environmental impact statement on Thursday that estimates it will cost $11.1 billion to build a new rail tunnel underneath the Hudson River and cost $1.8 billion to fix the current aging tube.

Federal agencies are required to evaluate the environmental and human impacts of any projects that the government may approve or fund.

Officials initially estimated that the Hudson Tunnel Project would cost between $8 and $10 billion, but have warned that the costs will go up with every day of delays.

The project is part of the broader Gateway Program, which was developed to construct a new rail tunnel underneath the Hudson River, replace the Portal Bridge and add a platform and station capacity in Penn Station.

Construction of the new tunnel would start in 2019 if the project gets fully funded, with work on the existing tunnel not likely to start until 2026, according to the government’s draft study.

The program is considered critical for the Northeast region. The connection between New Jersey and Penn Station — which moves hundreds of thousands of passengers daily — consists of a pair of 105-year-old tunnels that were already in desperate need of repair before incurring additional damage from Superstorm Sandy.

The tunnels are expected to be closed in the next decade for at least a year for repairs. Closing the existing tubes without the creation of additional tracks, however, would reduce system capacity by 75 percent, according to a Common Good report, which could cause paralyzing traffic jams and harm the regional economy.

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Lawmakers in the Northeast have been pushing the Trump administration to make the program a top priority. New Jersey and New York agreed to split the cost of the project, with Amtrak and DOT also signaling last year that they would chip in. Local officials have warned that the project will not get done without federal help.

But the DOT withdrew from Gateway Program Development Corporation last weekend, as part of an effort to ensure “there is no appearance of prejudice or partiality in favor of these projects ahead of hundreds of other projects nationwide.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has reassured lawmakers that the project remains a priority for the administration, even though President Trump proposed eliminating a grant program the Gateway Program is relying on to pay for a portion of the project.

The administration doesn’t have to be a part of the board to fund the program, but champions of the project are worried about the message DOT is sending by pulling out of the corporation.