Gateway project moves to 'doing phase' with deal to pay for rail tunnel's NY entrance

NEWARK — The agency overseeing the massive new Gateway train tunnel project under the Hudson River to improve service between New Jersey and Manhattan signed off on a deal Tuesday to cover the nearly $700 million cost of building the tunnel's entrance on the Manhattan side.

The Gateway Development Commission approved that and two other resolutions related to the rail tunnel project at its Tuesday meeting — a move Amtrak board Chair Tony Coscia described as "taking us from the talking phase to the doing phase."

One of those documents is a partnership agreement among Amtrak, New York and New Jersey that outlines what each entity will contribute to the $692.7 million project to build the two-track tunnel entrance on the New York side, a project celebrated in person in January by President Joe Biden, who announced at the time that it was receiving a $292 million federal Mega grant.

Kris Kolluri, CEO of the Gateway Development Commission (GDC), speaks during a board meeting with the GDC commissioners at NJ Transit headquarters in Newark on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.

New York and New Jersey will each contribute $69.3 million and Amtrak will pay $262 million for the tunnel's Manhattan entrance, plus upfront cost overruns.

"This is a huge milestone," said Kris Kolluri, CEO of the Gateway commission. "What you see is a reflection of the collective work, all in the interest of making sure the public sees where the project has evolved from."

With that agreement in place, construction can begin later this year.

Construction on the New Jersey side is also expected to start this year near the tunnel's entrance by Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen. These are considered "early" construction projects that can get started while the Gateway commission and Federal Transit Administration work out a full funding grant agreement, the document that solidifies the federal Capital Investment Grant, expected to cover about 45% of the $16.1 billion price tag on the overall project.

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Preparation for drilling

Kolluri also told the board that officials are preparing other tunnel-related projects, including stabilizing the ground on the Manhattan side for the boring machine that will drill the tunnel holes, as well as preparing the Palisades area, east of Tonnelle Avenue, where they will drill through rock for the New Jersey opening.

"What you see when taken together is a road map of how other projects will come into play as we move forward," said Kolluri, whose hiring was announced a year ago this week, at a time when the two states were still being nudged — publicly by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer — to set aside their differences to get these agreements in place so the projects could accelerate.

"The three principal parties here — New Jersey, New York and Amtrak — are all very very committed, I’d say finally, because they all sort of took different time frames to get there, but they’re all committed right now to what it means to actually complete the Gateway program," said Coscia, who is also on the Gateway board. "It’s important not to forget about the fact that the project is about a person who lives somewhere to be able to get on a train and use that train to get from point A to point B safely and efficiently and reliably."

That sentiment was not lost on many in attendance at Tuesday's meeting.

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Project benefits for workers, residents

Among those who spoke in favor of the project were representatives from the nonprofit advocate sector, unions, business groups and local politicians who are excited to see the long-awaited project taking shape and how it will have wide-ranging benefits for workers and residents.

"The Gateway tunnel project creates good family-supporting jobs and benefits the greater community as a whole," said Robert Campos, a business representative for Heavy and General Construction Laborers Local 472 in Newark. "This type of public investment has both direct and indirect benefits that extend well beyond the initial construction."

For Shelley Brindle, the mayor of Westfield and a former 20-year NJ Transit commuter, this project is personal to her and her constituents, served by NJ Transit's Raritan Valley Line, who need the new tunnels to get more frequent direct trains to Manhattan.

"The potential for the Gateway program to add capacity and a peak one-seat ride into New York City for RVL commuters will not only improve the quality of life for our residents, but the economic prospects for our communities," Brindle said.

This article originally appeared on Gateway project advancing, NY tunnel entrance deal set