The federal government has greenlighted Amtrak’s long-stalled "Gateway" project, which would build a new rail tunnel across the Hudson River, potentially providing extra capacity for LIRR riders at Penn Station.
With the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday issuing its "record of decision" and "final environmental impact statement," the path is cleared for the project, which aims to construct a new 2.5-mile tunnel linking Manhattan's Penn Station to New Jersey. It would also rehabilitate a 110-year-old tunnel across the Hudson that was badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Those two efforts total about $11.6 billion.
Although only Amtrak and New Jersey Transit would use the new passages, experts have said the project will reap benefits for the Long Island Rail Road, which operates the majority of trains into and out of Penn, by freeing up extra capacity in the station.
The state announced this week that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has completed major construction on the LIRR's new East Side Access link to Grand Central, scheduled to open next year.
Gateway is part of a broader initiative to expand and modernize the busy Manhattan transit hub, potentially adding tracks and renovating the LIRR’s existing concourse.
"The immediate effect to the Long Island commuter will be that these facilities … will be brought to a world where things don’t look like they were designed in some ring of hell," said Steven Cohen, chairman of the Gateway Development Corporation, which is leading the project.
Matthew Cohen, president of the Long Island Association, a business group, said Friday that "this investment will modernize our rail system, connect Long Island commuters to businesses, create countless jobs and spur economic growth throughout our region."
First proposed a decade ago, Gateway’s progress slowed considerably under former President Donald Trump.
Project officials on Friday expressed enthusiasm for the increased federal support for the project, including from President Joe Biden — a longtime Amtrak customer — and from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
In an interview Friday, Schumer said the federal approvals "open the door to start spending money," including billions previously earmarked for the project.
"The money will start to flow," said Schumer, adding that the project will "benefit Long Island commuters dramatically" by boosting capacity at Penn Station.
Project officials are counting on Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package for much of the funding for Gateway, as well as money from New Jersey and New York, which have each pledged to put in 25% of the needed dollars for the tunnel work.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday signaled reluctance over the agreement, given Amtrak’s refusal to use a method that could reduce costs in repairing the Sandy-damaged Hudson River and East River tunnels, used by the LIRR. The "repair-in-place" method would entail patching up and reinforcing the existing structure, rather than rebuilding it, and mounting new electrical cables on racks.
"I’m not going to pay, unless it is a smart, efficient, effective process," Cuomo said Thursday. "If the federal government wants to do stupid, they can do stupid with their money."
Amtrak has said the method, which would concentrate work on nights and weekends and allow the tunnels to remain in service during the weekdays, is not feasible.