Rating upgrade paves way for $10 billion Hudson Tunnel project

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal regulators on Thursday announced key approval for a $10 billion rail tunnel project under the Hudson River, marking another milestone for a long-delayed project that is the centerpiece of an effort aimed at transforming rail transport in the North East.

The Federal Transit Administration said it had raised the tunnel project’s rating to medium-high, making it eligible to receive federal grants.

The widely anticipated move came after years of lower FTA ratings under the Trump administration, which had clashed with New York and New Jersey over how much the states had pledged to pay to build the tunnel.

Under a deal struck during the administration of former President Barack Obama, states had agreed to share half the cost of the tunnel, using federal loans to be repaid over decades, with federal grants accounting for the other half.

Under former President Donald Trump, the FTA said states were not allowed to use federal loans as part of their funding to get federal grants. This policy was reversed by the administration of current President Joe Biden.

Funding for the tunnel will come from money earmarked for rail projects in the recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

In a statement, the Gateway Development Commission, which is overseeing the project, said: “With the commitment of more than $6 billion from New York and New Jersey, and the $1.4 billion pledged by Amtrak, the oday’s action brings us one step closer to a true federal-local partnership that finally puts 21st century rail infrastructure at the heart of the national economy.

The existing tunnel is over 110 years old and prone to problems and delays due to crumbling walls and aging signals and wiring. Saltwater intrusion from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 accelerated the tunnel’s deterioration and forced Amtrak, the tunnel’s owner, to undertake costly repairs to keep it running reliably.

Hundreds of trains and hundreds of thousands of passengers a day pass through the tunnel in normal times, and delays can ripple down the East Coast between Boston and Washington. Once primary construction begins, the new tunnel could take up to seven years to complete.

As part of the Gateway project, the new tunnel would be built parallel to the existing tunnel. Once completed, the existing tunnel would be taken out of service for a complete overhaul, which is expected to take up to two years.

Other large-scale rail improvements in the area include the replacement of a century-old railroad bridge in New Jersey that has been a regular source of delays; the tunnels connecting the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, scheduled to open this year; and the transformation and eventual expansion of the aging and unsightly Penn Station in midtown Manhattan.

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