On April 19, 2021, Gateway Development Commission Trustee Jerry Zaro updated New Jersey Alliance members on the much anticipated and critically needed Gateway Program (the Program). The estimated $30 billion, 10-year Program will increase capacity for and preserve a critical 10-mile segment of the Northeastern Corridor (NEC) rail between Newark Penn Station and Penn Station New York. The Program’s first phase will replace the Portal North Bridge, construct a new tunnel under the Hudson River, rehabilitate the existing rail tunnel, and complete concrete casing work on the west side of Manhattan. Later phases consist of an expansion of Penn Station New York including platforms, enlargement of the Secaucus Junction station, construction of a Portal South Bridge, and other related elements that will ultimately result in a four-track railroad the entire length between Newark and New York.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg described the Gateway Program as a project of “national significance,” implementing significant policy changes that will increase the Program’s rating and thus its funding. In 2018, the Department of Transportation determined that New Jersey and New York could not use federal loans that require repayment for their mandated local funding contributions. As a result of this policy change, the Department of Transportation lowered the Program’s rating to medium-low. This decision caused two holds-ups:
- The Program did not qualify for federal funding; and
- The required environmental impact statement would not be completed, which was a prerequisite to other steps such as property acquisition.
Under the new Department of Transportation policy, the entire Program is now eligible to receive federal funding (only the Portal Bridge North project had previously received any committed federal dollars). Regarding the second hold-up, Commissioner Zaro advised that the environmental impact study is expected to be completed by May 28, 2021.
Portal North Bridge
Commissioner Zaro also provided promising news on the Program’s first project—the construction of a new, higher Portal North Bridge. If you have ever sat on an NEC platform because all trains were stopped due to the Portal Bridge being stuck “open” (requiring manual closure), you know just how necessary this project is for the country’s busiest rail section. The good news is that while this project is ready to go, the remaining regulatory hurdles should be cleared in a few months. Property acquisition for the Portal North Bridge Project will begin immediately after the environmental impact study is complete. If all stays “on track,” a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a design-builder is expected to be issued by New Jersey Transit in the third quarter of 2021.
Remaining Projects in the Gateway Program
President Biden’s recently released American Jobs Plan (the Plan) seeks to provide Amtrak with $80 billion investment. Because Amtrak operates the tunnels under the Hudson River, this investment could go towards the Gateway Program, plus many more items in Amtrak’s backlog of repairs. The Plan also allocates $25 billion for “shovel ready” projects that are nationally or regionally significant. Given Secretary Buttigieg’s comments on the Program’s national significance, Commissioner Zaro was optimistic that if the Plan is passed, funding issues for the remainder of Phase One would be resolved.
Contractors will be pleased to know that the Gateway Commission is performing a geotechnical investigation of the tunnel location and intends to publish the results. Commissioner Zaro expressly acknowledged that without such data, contractors would have no choice but to include extremely high contingencies in their prices to account for unknown subsurface conditions in the Hudson River. Further, due to the numerous entities involved in the Gateway Commission (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Amtrak, NJ Transit, and NJDOT), there is speculation as to which public entity will actually hold the contracts. Commissioner Zaro indicated, that at this time, it is expected that the Gateway Commission will issue the RFPs and hold the contracts for the remaining Phase One projects.
Cohen Seglias attorneys will continue to monitor and share developments as the projects and related legislation proceed.