Biden Announces $292M Hudson Tunnel Grant


President Joe Biden recently visited New York to announce $292 million in bipartisan infrastructure law funding for a “critical” early phase of the Hudson Tunnel Project. A part of the National Infrastructure Project Assistance discretionary grant program (Mega), the funding was awarded to Amtrak for concrete casing.

The long-awaited $16.1 billion project will involve building a new tunnel parallel to the existing structure between New York and New Jersey, which would be taken out of service for repairs after the replacement is completed.

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 of 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, Superstorm 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.

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 former 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 projects 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 necessitated rehabilitation attempts during overnight and weekend hours, deterioration still stands as the biggest issue for the existing tubes.

Though Amtrak is still reportedly 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.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority had previously approved 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 brought to the table 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 the Hudson River’s use 12,000 volts, making them much larger and requiring more protection.

In September 2020, the cost of the project was reported to have climbed in cost and time, increasing $275 million to its current estimation of $11.6 billion, and its start delayed to 2022. According to a statement released by the Gateway Program, the project was submitted in response to the Federal Transit Association’s annual call for projects for the Capital Investment Grant Program.

When infrastructure priorities were being outline for the Biden Administration in March, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told lawmakers at the time that the Hudson River Tunnel replacement repair and replacement would be a top priority.

In his comments to House lawmakers, Buttigieg said that a true recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must include “a national commitment to fix and transform America’s infrastructure” and that maintaining the “status quo” of how the U.S. approaches infrastructure is “a threat to our collective future.”

During the same week, the USDOT announced a $230 million discretionary grant program for U.S. port and intermodal construction projects and that the $30.5 billion provided in the American Rescue Plan for the country's transportation programs was available.

The following month, Buttigieg received a letter from the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, in addition to three New York-based contractor groups, requesting that he waive the state's Scaffold Law for the Hudson River Tunnel construction project.

In the letter to Buttigieg, the coalition is again requesting that the regulation be waived, citing the same claims to cost increases regarding the Hudson River Tunnel and Mario Cuomo Bridge made just four years prior. This time around, however, the group suggests that the law be replaced with a comparative negligence standard, where NYDOT would mandate the comparative negligence standard for any project receiving federal grants.

In reporting from their perspective on the matter, the NYCOSH points out that contractors only have liability for fall injuries if they do not provide the proper safety equipment or violate safety and health regulations, suggesting that companies should allow insurance providers to allow an evaluation of their records so that it can be determined if the Scaffold Law is really behind rising policy prices.

In May, New York Representative Ritchie Torres (D, NY-15) introduced bill H.R. 3002, requiring that Amtrak adopt a repair-in-place method for track maintenance, rehabilitation and other purposes. While the legislation aims to target rehabilitation projects on East River train tunnels, according to Torres and other government officials, if passed, the legislation could have a ripple effect on other projects in New York as well, such as the Hudson River Tunnel.

At the end of June 2021, the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration issued the final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the project.

At the time, New York and New Jersey were slated to split project costs with the federal government, although no federal funding was dedicated. In the meantime, FTA and the Port Authority, along with other project partners looked to advance the Hudson River Tunnel project through the Capital Investment Grants Program.

According to FTA spokesperson, after the non-profit agency is made a project sponsor, the FTA planned to provide technical support to the Port Authority and the Commission as those agencies complete transferring the role.

Following a tour in July, Buttigieg pledged that the Biden Administration was committed to building a new train tunnel under the Hudson River. Joined by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, among other lawmakers, Buttigieg reported that seeing the tunnels in person was an eye-opening experience.

At the end of 2021, officials for the Gateway Development Commission announced that the final permit for the Hudson Tunnel Project has been obtained. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Section 404/10 permit allows digging of the tunnel to begin once necessary funding is in place.

Funding for the Gateway Tunnel Project was included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. According to a press release from New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs acts includes $66 billion for passenger rail expansion and improvements, including $22 billion for Amtrak and $24 billion for Northeast Corridor Modernization Grants, which can directly be used to finance the completion of the Gateway Project, including the Hudson River Tunnel.

However, at the time, officials were still waiting on the approval of a $5.6 billion grant from the Federal Transit Administration to finance the tunnel, which was not received. Construction was reportedly anticipated to begin in August 2023 and take 12 years to complete.

At the beginning of 2022, the FTA announced that it has upgraded the Hudson Tunnel project’s rating, clearing the final roadblock needed to receive federal funding. The rating, which has been raised to “medium-high” from “medium-low,” allows the project to move forward in seeking funding from the Capital Investment Grants program. reported that federal funding could be as much as $5.6 billion, or approximately 44% of the project’s cost to build. $1.4 billion of funding would come from Amtrak, alongside property it has purchased for the project, and New Jersey and New York governments would funding up to $6 billion through low intertest, long-term railroad infrastructure loans.

Then, in July, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a funding agreement to split the cost for the Hudson Tunnel and Portal North Bridge projects, advancing the Gateway Program to its next phase. The Memorandum of Understanding, required by the Gateway Development Commission Act, outlines sources, uses and timing of funding for Phase One Gateway Projects.

Phase One of the program will be funded by a combination of federal and local sources, with a 50-50 split for the tunnel project. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will commit a total of $2.7 billion for the first phase. The states also note they intend to work with partners and federal entities to pursue greater federal resources of funding for the program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The goal was to have federal funding in place by the end of 2022, with tunnel construction potentially starting in summer of 2023. However, a former Federal Transit Administration official said a full funding grant agreement might not happen until 2024 because of the complexity of the work that remains and the cost.

In September, the Gateway Development Commission announced that the construction of the new Hudson River Tunnel was delayed amid increased cost projections. On the financial side, the overall tunnel project, including financing, is now anticipated to cost $16.1 billion, up from the previous estimate of $14.1 billion.

Last month, at least 80 companies signed up for an informational meeting about the Hudson River Tunnel project after announcing in December it would be seeking a project delivery partner (PDP).

The Gateway Development Commission is working alongside Amtrak to find a partner to provide services including design management, construction management, coordination, field representation and monitoring as a “fully integrated and accountable member of the project team.”

According to the release, engagement with a PDP will dramatically increase Commission’s technical, financial and legal capacities to manage and deliver the Hudson Tunnel Project, including enhancements to project planning, programming, design management and construction management capabilities.

Additionally, potential performance incentives in the partnership will increase discipline in delivering the project efficiently.

Latest Funding

The Mega funding announced by Biden is part of a $649 million early phase project that will complete the final section of concrete casing intended to preserve future right-of-way for the new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River. 

Awarded for Hudson Yards Concrete Casing, Section 3, the concrete case will protect the path of the new tunnel from Penn Station to the Hudson River’s edge. The White House reports that if this casing were not built now, the foundations from the new Hudson Yards development would likely impede the path of the tunnel and make the project extremely difficult.

“Today’s Mega grant announcement is the first of several funding announcements for the project expected this year and the most significant federal funding for the Gateway Hudson Tunnel Project to date,” wrote the White House.

“The Administration is committed to providing the billions of dollars in funding necessary to ensure that this critical project is completed. Later this year, if and when additional milestones are met by the states and other parties, a full funding agreement will be completed.”

Additionally, the bipartisan infrastructure law reportedly makes the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak, with a $66 billion investment in rail. Several major rail projects along the 450-mile Northeast Corridor between Washington, DC, and Boston, will receive their first significant funding this year.

As part of the announcement, the Biden-Harris Administration reported it has also awarded nearly $1.2 billion from the Mega discretionary grant program for nine total projects across the country. In addition to the Hudson Tunnel, funding will go towards:

  • The Brent Spence Bridge, connecting Kentucky and Ohio ($250 million);
  • The Calcasieu River Bridge Replacement in Louisiana ($150 million);
  • The Metra Union Pacific-North Line in Illinois ($117 million);
  • The Alligator River Bridge in North Carolina ($110 million);
  • I-44 and US-75 improvements in Oklahoma ($85 million);
  • Roosevelt Boulevard improvements in Philadelphia ($78 million);
  • I-10 widening in Mississippi ($60 million); and
  • The Watsonville-Cruz Multimodal Corridor Program in California ($30 million).

The White House reports that these investments are anticipated to create good-paying jobs, grow the economy, strengthen supply chains, improve mobility for residents and make transportation systems safer for all users.


Tagged categories: concrete; Funding; Government; Government contracts; Grants; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Rail; Tunnel; Upcoming projects

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