FTA Increases Hudson Tunnel Project Rating to ‘Medium-High’

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief, Railway Track & Structures
An ACS64-led Amtrak Northeast Regional train prepares to depart Penn Station New York, bound for Washington, D.C. William C. Vantuono photo

An ACS64-led Amtrak Northeast Regional train prepares to depart Penn Station New York, bound for Washington, D.C. William C. Vantuono photo

The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) on Jan. 20 announced new ratings for six projects seeking funding from the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program—one was for the Hudson Tunnel Project and the others for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects.

The Hudson Tunnel Project rating was updated to “medium-high.” The project—one component of the Gateway Program—proposes the construction of a new two-track 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, a new Hudson Tunnel, and the rehabilitation and modernization of the existing North River tunnel (see map below).

The current tunnel system is 111 years old (constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad as part of the New York Improvements Program) and was damaged in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy. About 450 New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains use the tunnels every weekday, and before COVID-19 hit there were about 200,000 daily passenger trips.

Project ratings are required at multiple points during the multi-year, multi-step process before a CIG funding commitment can be made, according to FTA. The ratings are based on a set of statutorily-defined project justification and local financial commitment criteria. Projects must receive and maintain a “medium” or better overall rating to advance through the process and be eligible for funding. Ratings are point-in-time evaluations by FTA and may change as proposed projects proceed through planning and design, as information concerning costs, benefits, financial plans, and impacts is refined, the agency said.

FTA has worked with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) and project partners Gateway Development Commission, NJ Transit and Amtrak as they seek to advance the Hudson Tunnel Project through the CIG program. Following PANYNJ’s request for an updated project rating last August, FTA said it completed the evaluation and rating process and has now released the updated rating to “medium-high.” PANYNJ must complete several CIG program requirements before the project is eligible to advance into the next phase of the CIG process: Engineering. 

Typically, project ratings are announced in the President’s budget, according to FTA. This year, because of passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the significant increase in funding for the CIG program, FTA said it is issuing the project ratings in advance of the President’s budget release.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

“Well-planned, large public transportation projects can transform lives and entire regions by reducing commute times, increasing safety, opening economic opportunities, reducing emissions, and making travel more affordable—and thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we can help more communities deliver these benefits,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “For example, the Hudson Tunnel Project will enable a safe, comfortable commute for hundreds of thousands of Americans currently traveling through a tunnel that was built more than 110 years ago.”

After the Hudson Tunnel Project’s rating increase was announced, the Gateway Development Commissioners released the following statement:

“We thank the Biden Administration, Secretary Buttigieg and the Federal Transit Administration for taking this major action today [Jan. 20] in funding the Hudson Tunnel Project. Along with our governors and our partners in Congress, they are clearly resolved to making the project a reality. From passing major infrastructure funding to issuing a Record of Decision to improving the project’s rating, this Administration and Congress have shown themselves to be true partners. 

Steven M. Cohen, Co-chair of the Gateway Development Commission

“Along with the more than $6 billion commitment from New York and New Jersey, and the $1.4 billion that Amtrak has pledged, today’s action moves us a big step closer to a true federal-local partnership that finally brings 21st Century rail infrastructure to the heart of the nation’s economy.

“We’ll continue to work hard with our Federal partners to meet the requirements of the grant so we can get to a Full Funding Grant Agreement rapidly, and move to full construction that finally stops the delays that are costing our commuters and travelers thousands of hours in lost time and the nation billions in productivity.”

(The Gateway Development Commissioners are: Steven M. Cohen, New York Commissioner and Co-Chair; Balpreet Grewal-Virk, New Jersey Commissioner and Co-Chair; Tony Coscia, Amtrak Commissioner and Vice Chair; Jamey Barbas, New York Commissioner; Janine Bauer, New Jersey Commissioner; Marie Therese Dominguez, New York Commissioner; and Jerry Zaro, New Jersey Commissioner.)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued this statement on Jan. 20:

“The day many commuters never thought they’d ever see is finally coming. We are closer than ever to securing a fairly and fully funded Gateway Program and beginning the work of delivering the safe and modern infrastructure our people and economy deserve. We are extraordinarily grateful to President Biden, Secretary Buttigieg, and our Congressional delegation led by Senators Menendez and Booker for making Gateway a priority so we can make it a reality.”

Additionally, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a Jan. 20 statement:

“The Gateway Hudson Tunnel project is one of the most critically important infrastructure investments of our generation, and the new favorable project rating is proof of President Biden’s ongoing commitment to fighting for and investing in our nation’s transit networks. 

“I thank the President, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, our New York Congressional Delegation, and the Federal Transit Administration for their continued commitment to the project.

“I will continue to stand with our partners at the federal level and with Governor Murphy to keep Gateway’s momentum going and ensure that we secure the necessary federal funding.”

In related developments, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Dec. 1, 2021 announced the issuing of a permit to allow construction of the tunnel and tracks under the Hudson River. This past summer, a new financial plan was submitted to FTA to support the Hudson Tunnel Project’s inclusion in the CIG program. Also, in May 2021, the project received a Final Environment Impact Statement (Final EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) from the Federal Railroad Administration and FTA.

Railway Age Executive Editor Marybeth Luczak contributed to this report.

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