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New rail tunnel from NJ to NYC can be built a lot cheaper, officials announce

2019-08-23

Tracks and switches near the Hudson River tunnels outside Penn Station. (Richard Drew/AP)

Building a new Amtrak tunnel and refurbishing the existing tunnels between New Jersey and Penn Station will cost $1.4 billion less than the original $12.7 billion price tag, officials overseeing the giant project said Friday.

Project sponsors — including the Port Authority, Amtrak and the Gateway Program Development Corporation — shared news of the reduced cost estimate in a letter to the Federal Transit Administration.

The massive undertaking — the biggest pending public works project in the country — involves repairing existing rail tunnels that connect New Jersey to New York as well as creating a new one.

“This new financial plan demonstrates that the states are doing everything possible to facilitate federal participation, including reducing the overall cost of the project,” Gov. Cuomo said.

Cuomo seemed to be addressing President Trump’s critique that local governments were not picking up enough of the costs under past versions of what’s known as the Gateway Project. The plan has stalled in Washington, where officials have rated it a “medium-low” priority for federal money.

“New York and New Jersey are laser-focused on completing this project in the most inexpensive and efficient way possible while restoring our nation’s role as a global leader in infrastructure,” Cuomo said.

If the feds accept the new budget and plan unveiled Friday, local officials predict construction could begin in 2021.

Port Authority Executive Director Richard Cotton warned the Federal Transit Administration that if one tunnel under the Hudson closes before the new tunnel is finished, it would cut current train traffic by 75 percent.

On an average day, about 220,000 riders take 450 NJ Transit and Amtrak trains through the tunnels that connect the Penn Station to New Jersey.

The new $11.3 billion price tag includes $9.5 billion to build a new tunnel and $1.8 billion to rehabilitate the existing tunnels.

“The nation would lose $16 billion if even one of the current tubes had to be taken out of service," Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia said.We simply can’t wait for reliable, resilient 21st century rail travel linking New York City to the rest of the country.”

The savings mapped out by the Gateway Program, the Port Authority and Amtrak would be realized partly by designing the project as construction proceeds.

Amtrak is also expected to contribute $600 million more to the total cost, further lowering the contribution needed from the federal government.