Transit officials in New York and New Jersey are set to embark on the massive Gateway rail tunnel project under the Hudson River, as Regional Plan Association researchers predict ridership on the other side of the river will rebound and even exceed pre-COVID levels by the end of the decade.
Leaders of both states and the federal government must quickly reach an agreement on funding for the $11.03 billion program or risk losing funding from Washington if Democrats – who have backed the mega-project – cannot retain their congressional majorities in the upcoming midterm elections.
“We have a window of opportunity, a once-in-a-generation opportunity, where there is a federal government and federal partners who support us, and funding and leadership in New York, New Jersey and New York,” RPA Chairman and CEO Tom Wright told a press conference at Penn Station.
“This window is going to close and New York has already lost funds to other parts of the country,” Wright added.
RPA researchers released a report on Wednesday estimating that trans-Hudson rides would return to pre-pandemic levels of about 466,000 weekday rides by around 2030, around the end of the tunnel project.
The forecast is based on four scenarios with different rates of people returning to offices and population growth that is either similar to 30 years before COVID or half of that.
Even if more people continue to work from home, growth in the region – particularly in northern New Jersey – will cause ridership to return to 2019 levels at that time, and current automotive infrastructure will s is already fulfilled again, noted the author of the study.
“Trans-Hudsonian car crossings, bridges and tunnels are already operating at pre-COVID levels, meaning there is little to no additional capacity at Trans-Hudson car crossings to accommodate any increases of transit,” said Chris Jones, senior researcher at RPA. “So any growth we get will have to come by train, bus, PATH or ferry.”
According to the report.
The Gateway project proposes to build a new tunnel under the river and rehabilitate the existing tube dating from 1910, damaged by Super Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The tunnel serves Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains between Garden State and Penn Station and is a crucial link on the Northeast Corridor – the nation’s busiest passenger rail line.
It was supposed to start construction in 2023, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he wanted to move it to 2022, adding that the federal government was “full speed to get the Gateway finished” when of a visit to Penn Station with Transportation Secretary Pete. Buttigieg a year ago.
The timeline for the project is about 6 to 7 years, officials said at the time.