New York and New Jersey’s long-delayed Gateway Program faces a more favorable outlook under Biden presidency

Infrastructure Week Part 216

New York and New Jersey’s long-delayed Gateway Program faces a more favorable outlook under Biden presidency

Amtrak traffic passing beneath the James Farley Post Office building in Manhattan. (Jim.henderson/WIkimedia Commons/CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication)

The Gateway Program, a massive planned infrastructure project in New York and New Jersey with an estimated $30 billion price tag that’s all but been brought to a standstill by the Trump administration, could rev back to life under a new White House headed by noted Amtrak enthusiast, President-elect Joe Biden.

The proposed program, which would expand and modernize the (mostly) Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor rail line in and around New York City and New Jersey, calls for repairing and building new bridges and tunnels that transverse the Hudson River as well as other major additions and improvements along the most heavily-trafficked section of rail in the United States. Trump, however, has held up funding for the project, which perhaps most crucially would involve repairing and rebuilding components of the North River Tunnel, a 109-year-old, two-track rail tube under the Hudson River that was severely damaged by seawater during Hurricane Sandy and is at increasingly high risk of catastrophic failure. Costing upwards of $13 billion, a new rail tube would also be built alongside the older repaired one to dramatically increase capacity. In addition to skirting the nightmare scenario that would unfold if a tube did fail in the near future, the Gateway Program and associated projects would make traveling between New York and New Jersey by rail a dramatically more pleasant and reliable experience.

With zero established personal grudges against the Gateway Program (or, more precisely, the states that would benefit from it and their elected leaders), Biden seems likely poised to lift the blockage of much-needed federal funding for the project, which was quashed by the Trump administration. Before Trump took office, the Obama administration had established a 50/50 funding deal for Gateway, and Trump, who made infrastructural overhauls a key component of his 2016 election platform, seemed in favor of it. However, it didn’t take long for things to sour and the deal was ultimately voided. In 2018, Trump even threatened to shut down the government over Gateway funding due in part to his ongoing feud with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Meanwhile, the Biden-Harris campaign specifically called out the Gateway Program (or the tunnel project, at least) under the rail subsection of its infrastructure plan, which it claimed will “spark the second great railroad revolution:”

“Biden will make sure that America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world—for both passengers and freight. As president, he will invest in high-speed rail. He’ll start by putting the Northeast Corridor on higher speeds and shrinking the travel time from D.C. to New York by half — and build in conjunction with it a new, safer Hudson River Tunnel. He will make progress toward the completion of the California High Speed Rail project. He will expand the Northeast Corridor to the fast-growing South. Across the Midwest and the Great West, he will begin the construction of an end-to-end high-speed rail system that will connect the coasts, unlocking new, affordable access for every American.”

Just a week after Biden was elected as the 46th President of the United States, advocates of Gateway as well public officials remain optimistic that the project will finally move forward with the funding it desperately needs. A Republican-led Senate, however, remains a formidable obstacle in moving Gateway, let alone any of the Biden agenda, infrastructure-related or not, forward.

“There’s definitely reason for more of an optimistic feeling about what can start moving,” Renae Reynolds, transportation planner for the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, recently told Politico. “The more sobering component is what happens in Congress and [if] that body becomes an ally and overcomes the barriers of partisanship.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also expressed his optimism about finally Gateway moving forward under a less tempestuous White House led by a president that’s been nicknamed “Amtrak Joe” due to his frequent personal use of—and vocal support of—the embattled passenger rail service. “I’m highly optimistic that will get green-lighted— President-elect Biden knows this project very well,” NJBIZ reported Murphy as telling Bloomberg TV shortly after Biden won the election. “Literally it is shovel-ready. You could envision putting a shovel in the ground, first quarter of next year.”