• Transportation chief says federal government fully committed
  • On $23 billion to-do list, Hudson tunnels are the priority

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Amtrak’s Gateway project, with its key rail tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York, needs local financing commitments with just eight months left to President Barack Obama’s administration.

Negotiations with the two states are focused on how to pay the $23 billion cost, he told reporters Friday after speaking at a transportation conference in New York. Foxx said he has “confidence that people are locked in at this point.”

Gateway, which involves replacing bridges and accommodating high-speed rail in addition to constructing replacements for the deteriorating 106-year-old Hudson tunnels, had been mothballed for a lack of funding until July, when a series of electrical faults interrupted New York City commuter service and U.S. Northeast Corridor trains. The project now faces two deadlines: the end of the existing tunnels’ useful life and the arrival of a new administration in January.

“With the magnitude of the dollar figure we’re talking about, I don’t see $23 billion of cash falling from the sky,” Foxx said. “This is going to be a patchwork exercise from a funding standpoint.”

Foxx said the federal government remains fully committed, and before Obama’s term ends, he wants local permitting and funding firmly in place. He spoke at a conference organized by the Regional Plan Association, which advocates for mass transportation as an economic engine for the metropolitan area.

The tunnels provide New York City access for 180,000 daily passengers, about 75 percent of them aboard New Jersey Transit commuter trains, Foxx said. After the breakdowns last year, Democratic U.S. Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Charles Schumer of New York pushed for a Gateway revival. The link below the Hudson, Foxx said, is the priority among all the construction.

“Amtrak has said that if nothing is done, at least one of the tubes will need to be shut down for an extended period to undergo repairs at some point in the next two decades,” Foxx told the audience at the Waldorf Astoria. “That does not inspire confidence. That could be 15 years from now, it could be 15 months from now, it could be 15 weeks from now, it could be 15 minutes from now.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a 53-year-old Republican in his second term, killed an earlier tunnel project, Access to the Region’s Core, citing design issues and the possibility of cost overruns to be shouldered by New Jerseyans. He has spoken in favor of Gateway, whose costs are to be spread among federal and local governments and transportation agencies.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in March pledged $35 million for engineering studies for a Hudson River tunnel, matching an amount promised by national rail operator Amtrak. It also agreed with the U.S. Transportation Department and New Jersey Transit to form an executive committee, necessary to secure grants.

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