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Hudson Tunnel Costs Hike, Start Delayed

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

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New York’s proposed Hudson River rail tunnel project has climbed in cost and time. With the price tag now sitting at $11.6 billion, the start date has been pushed back to 2022.

Now, not only do officials have to wait for environmental reviews, they also face financial uncertainty for the massive project.

Some Project History

Part of Amtrak’s massive Gateway Program, developed in 2017 to overhaul parts of New York’s and New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure, included plans to build the Hudson Tunnel from 2019 to 2026.

The tunnel was thought as one of the most important transportation projects in the nation, in part because it would allow for the reconstruction of the North River Tunnel. Completed in 1910, the North River Tunnel was already well into its prime when in 2012, Super Storm Sandy inundated it with millions of gallons of salt water, which left behind corrosive chlorides.

An engineering report from 2014 claimed the Amtrak tunnels would require $689 million to repair the corrosion and cracking caused by Superstorm Sandy. The 57-page report, "Structural Assessment of the Amtrak Under River Tunnels in NYC Inundated by Super Storm Sandy," found that chlorides and sulfates caused, and were continuing to cause, significant damage to key tunnel components.

Hudconia, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

New York’s proposed Hudson River rail tunnel project has climbed in cost and time. With the price tag now sitting at $11.6 billion, the start date has been pushed back to 2022.

In addition, the report recommended a phased process to take individual tubes out of service for extended periods to perform repair work—ultimately underscoring the urgency to advance the Gateway Program.

To investigate the possibilities of the Amtrak Gateway Program, among other projects in the country, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed the cost of mass-transit infrastructure projects in 2018. As part of its investigation, the GAO oversaw factors including how contracts are written and carried out, and whether regulatory barriers are driving up costs on transit projects, particularly in New York City.

The investigation arose at a time when Congress and President Donald J. Trump attempted to move forward on an infrastructure funding plan that would include $200 billion in spending to spur $1.5 trillion in state, local and private infrastructure investment over the next 10 years.

But funding for the project had been plagued with question marks from the start as a key funding option became unavailable in April 2019 as the Hudson Tunnel and associated rail bridge project in northern New Jersey received low ratings from the Federal Transit Administration, deeming them ineligible for federal grant funding.

In terms of actual project plans, there were question marks there as well with how exactly to move forward. Even after significant saltwater damage, rehabilitation attempts during overnight and weekend hours, deterioration still stands as the biggest issue for the existing tubes.

Though still managing to transport more than 400 trains and 200,000 passengers each day, Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia said: “In the interim, we have to deal with the reality that we may have to consider some other options that are available to ensure the tunnels are durable for as long as possible.”

Previously approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were plans to remove damaged concrete from the Canarsie tunnel that lines and encases power cables—followed by replacing the cables and rebuilding the concrete walls.

Looking at new ideas, another plan was brought to the table that advised the installation of cables on racks that would run along the inside of the tunnels, abandoning the old cables where they are. The surrounding concrete would also be rehabilitated and encased with a protective fiber-reinforced polymer.

While debates on how the repairs will be carried out continue, urban research and advocacy organization, Regional Plan Association (New York), noted that cables used in the Canarsie tunnels run on 625 volts, while Hudson River’s use 12,000 volts, making them much larger and requiring more protection.

What Now

The $11.6 billon price tag is a $275 million hike from the latest estimate of $11.3 billion. That figure was an adjustment down from an original estimate, but a chance at federal money seemed likely despite the Trump administration’s opinion that the states should bear the majority of the financial burden, according to Bloomberg.

The planners have pushed back the start date one year, and even that relies on securing approval for a draft environmental impact statement, which was submitted for consideration in February 2018.

According to a statement released by the Gateway Program, the project has been submitted in response to the Federal Transit Association’s annual call for projects for the Capital Investment Grant Program.

“All of our partners, the two states, the Port Authority, and Amtrak, remain fully committed to getting a new Hudson Tunnel built and rehabilitating the existing nearly 110-year-old tubes,” said Steven M. Cohen, New York Trustee and Chair of the Gateway Program Development Corporation.

“Together, their funding commitments more than qualify the project for an improved financial plan rating from FTA. Now, we need a federal administration that works with us. With the COVID pandemic, the project has only taken on even more urgency as the nation looks to bring back jobs and stimulate the economy, essential workers need reliable transportation in the short term and the region and nation need 21st century rail transportation to build better infrastructure for the long term.”


Tagged categories: Funding; Maintenance + Renovation; Mass transit; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Public Transit; Rail; Tunnel

Comment from Andrew Piedl, (9/3/2020, 10:41 AM)

Here's an article from the local paper: There are lots of question marks, including why the administration and Mitch's wife would rather see other projects completed, such as the much more important structure at our southern border.

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