Schumer calls for P3 solution to Hudson River tunnel project

Senator advocates creation of a Gateway Development Corporation to align interests and ensure development of two new Amtrak tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey.

A discussion about whether to utilise a public-private partnership (P3) has bored its way into a tunnel project debate in New York and New Jersey. 

Offering a new chance at resolution to a long-fought scuffle about whether New York or New Jersey should pay the remainder of costs beyond federal funding for development of two Amtrak tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey, New York Senator Charles Schumer recently laid out a new plan to create a collaborative, non-profit Gateway Development Corporation to align resources for a tunnel project.

“We are fast approaching a regional transportation Armageddon – the busiest rail lines in the country will soon be stranded without a way into New York City, which could be devastating not only for commerce, but our commuters,” Schumer said at a press conference held at the Middletown, NY, train station late last week. “That is why we should create a Gateway Development Corporation in which all the players – from New York and New Jersey and from Amtrak and the federal government – can get together, plan and design this must-build project and pull down every available source of public and private funding to make it possible.”

Along with the states of New York and New Jersey, Amtrak and the federal government, Schumer believes the proposed Gateway Development Corporation should include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

The Gateway project is a proposed expansion of Amtrak's Hudson River tunnels that would see addition of 25 train slots during peak hours through construction of a new, larger tunnel to parallel the existing train system, which currently operates at maximum capacity and was built in the first decade of the 20th century and is desperately in need of repairs and updating, especially thanks to damage that shortened their lifespan suffered during Hurricane Sandy's assault on the region in 2012. 

Schumer sees the Gateway project as an opportunity to provide the Hudson Valley's Orange and Rockland County commuters with a “one-seat ride” to New York's Penn Station, something he sees as a huge economic opportunity for the region.

“Funding the Gateway project would not only ensure we can build the tunnels necessary to keeping New York State, and our nation's economic center, functioning, but it would also pave the way to creating the one-seat ride Orange and Rockland County commuters have been begging for year after year,” Schumer went on. “Providing a way for our West-of-the-Hudson commuters to get to New York City without having to transfer trains has the potential to completely revolutionize commuting and spur an incredible level of economic development.” 

On Tuesday, US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx met with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to discuss the tunnel issue. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was invited to the meeting, but he was not scheduled to be in attendance though the meeting took place in Newark and Cuomo was only a short distance away in New York City.

The meeting follows a letter from Foxx and addressed to both governors that requested a sit down and called the condition of the Hudson tunnels “a major threat to the region and to our Nation's transportation system” and urged the state leaders to take immediate action, with the DOT secretary pledging to lend his personal engagement to get the Gateway project on the path to completion as soon as possible. 

Foxx said that the administration has already dedicated $185 million in federal funding toward the project, and is “willing once again to explore Federal financial assistance”, but that no one entity could accomplish the task on its own. 

Christie, who famously cancelled the former ARC tunnel project in his first year in office after discovering that it was racking up billions in cost overruns, has said that he would be willing to discuss a tunnel project as long as it doesn't share what he saw as the flawed characteristics of the ARC project such as a plan to move trains into a new depot seven stories under Penn Station rather than integrating with existing system depots, and as long as New York foots a fair share of the bill. 

According to an Associated Press report, Cuomo told reporters, “It's not my tunnel […] It is an Amtrak tunnel that is used by Amtrak and by New Jersey Transit”.

Following the meeting, Foxx and Christie were joined by New Jersey senators Robert Menendez and Corey Booker, the latter of which arranged the meeting attended by all at his Newark office, in releasing a joint statement. 

“Transit across the Hudson River carries an enormous and increasing share of this region's workforce and economy, and it is clear that something must be done, and done now, as commuters continue to endure serious daily challenges that come with an aging infrastructure,” the statement reads.

According to the statement, “Senator Booker, Senator Menendez, and Governor Christie will work with Secretary Foxx to obtain substantial Federal grant contribution toward the Hudson River tunnels. In addition to grants, we will also work on other funding and financing options.”