Can Sen. Schumer power through the Gateway Tunnel?By
Six years ago, when the Democrats rode a mid-term election sweep into control of the House and Senate. At the time, Chuck Schumer, New York’s then and current senior senator, pledged infrastructure dollars for New York State, and thus, the Second Ave. Subway — and this site — were born.
Over the past six years, a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. We’ve seen megaprojects come and go on and on; we’ve seen the promise of a trans-Hudson rail crossing rise and fall. It’s still a struggle to secure federal (or state) dollars for transit projects, and Schumer is still in the Senate trying to throw his weight around. This time around, he has his eyes on the Gateway Tunnel, an Amtrak project that would be part of a northeast high-speed rail network and could improve train service through New York City.
On Friday, Schumer announced his intentions to push through the Gateway Tunnel with an eye toward a possible groundbreaking as early as 2013. Crain’s New York had more on Schumer’s efforts and how the Hudson Yards development is a motivating factor:
Mr. Schumer said with enough federal funding and all the relevant players on board, the project could break ground as early as the end of 2013. Usually it takes years before work can begin on such a complex, multi-billion dollar effort. “It’s a truly significant project,” Mr. Schumer said at a breakfast forum in midtown Manhattan sponsored by the New York Building Congress. “It’s the kind of big idea that could shape the way New York City looks decades from now.”
Two rail tunnels connect New Jersey and New York, and both are more than 100 years old. The Gateway project was unveiled in February 2011, after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, citing potential cost overruns, killed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, which was to include a train tunnel under the Hudson. Congress approved an initial $15 million for Gateway in November 2011 and Mr. Schumer said an additional $20 million was close to being secured. The total project is expected to cost $13-$15 billion and will not be completed before 2020.
A new urgency has been brought to the project, Mr. Schumer said, since Amtrak’s engineers determined that the best place to construct Gateway (which would have one tunnel in each direction) was directly under the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side. The Related Companies is expected to break ground on the massive, mixed-use project late this year. Both Related and Long Island Rail Road, the right-of-way property owners underneath Hudson Yards, are supportive of Gateway, he said. “That means we need to build these tunnels now,” the senior senator said. “We can’t wait for the rest of the project to be formulated or nothing will happen.”
There a few items of note happening here. First, Schumer has significant weight in Washington and the ability to push through a project of this magnitude. If the tunnel can be built now and maintained as both an active rail line and a future provision for high-speed rail, then all the better. We need that new rail crossing sooner rather than later.
Second, someone other than a New Jersey representative or politician is finally making noises about a trans-Hudson tunnel. When the ARC Tunnel met its end, New Yorkers were by and large silent. This was New Jersey’s project, and they let New Jersey hash out the fallout. Now, with Amtrak a national — or at least a regional — concern, politicians from both sides of the Hudson can come together to support such a tunnel. It would have been better to pursue such a path originally, but better late than never. Now, we’ll have to see if this tunnel can survive to see the light of day unlike its ARC Tunnel cousin.