Unanswered Questions on Gateway Tunnel
Senator Schumer and USDOT Secretary Buttigieg forgot to invite New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during a tour of a rail tunnel. Cuomo previously said “Who’s coming through the new Gateway [Tunnel]? It’s Amtrak, it’s Amtrak, and a few New Jersey Transit trains. Why should New York have paid for Gateway? I don’t have any trains going through Gateway.”
Cuomo has never ridden a NJ train. A majority of trains using the current Hudson River and future Gateway Tunnels are operated by NJ Transit, not Amtrak.
His claim that NY obtains no benefit from the Gateway project is incorrect. Many Metro North Port Jervis and Pascack Valley line riders change at Secaucus for NJ Transit trains bound for Penn Station via the Hudson River Tunnels.
Thousands of New Yorkers are reverse commuters, traveling to jobs, entertainment or sporting events in New Jersey.
Cuomo’s words imply that he may not pony up his 25 percent or $2.9 billion share toward the $11.6 billion cost. NY’s share is needed to leverage $5.8 funding from the Federal Transit & Federal Rail Road Administrations. Without his financial contribution, the project will not proceed.
There is no way of knowing if it will come in higher than the new promised $11.3 billion for two new tunnels plus rehabilitation of the old tunnels. This reduced scope does not include any additional new tracks or platforms necessary to increase capacity for both Amtrak and NJ Transit to Penn Station.
Historically as any major capital project advances through design and engineering, estimated project costs continue to rise. Responses to any construction procurement can come in above the project engineers estimate. Any final project cost upon completion could increase based upon responses to bids, along with change orders during construction due to last minute changes in scope or unforeseen site conditions, inspection and acceptance of all work that also includes quality assurance and quality control during construction followed by beneficial use, completion of contract punch list items (to insure contractor built the asset to meet design and engineering contract specifications), receipt of asset maintenance manuals followed by contract(s) closeout, release of retainage and final payment.
Amtrak, Port Authority and Gateway Development Corporation must share the details which justify the $11.3 billion budget. Without this information, riders, taxpayers, transportation advocates and elected officials will remain skeptical.
As a result of COVID-19, the world we live in has changed. Commuting patterns will be different. More people will telecommute on a part time or permanent basis. The concept of urban central business districts will continue to evolve. More people will be shopping on line. More Wall Street financial institutions and Manhattan based corporations may continue to move additional employees to back offices in the suburbs.
Any ridership modeling for the Gateway Tunnel dealing with anticipated increase in ridership over coming decades must be reevaluated.
Schumer and Buttigieg also forgot to visit the East River tunnels during their Gateway Tunnel press conference and Hudson River Tunnel tour. Ongoing cancellation and combining of trains due to signal and other problems in the East River tunnels along with other locations on all nine branches of the LIRR system will continue for years to come. Amtrak will not initiate decades overdue major repairs of the 110 plus year old East River tunnels until 2025 (two years after East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal begins). This work on all four tunnels, including two that suffered significant damages from Super Storm Sandy in 2012, may not be completed until 2029. Until this work is over, it will be impossible to guarantee reliable uninterrupted honest on-time service.
The Gateway Tunnel project is reminiscent of the ongoing MTA’s Long Island Rail Road Eastside Access to Grand Central Terminal project. In 2001, the initial estimated cost was $3.5 billion with a completion date of 2011. Twenty years later, In 2021, (based upon the 2016 MTA FTA amended Full Funding Grant Agreement) it is currently at $11.2 billion and could grow to $12 billion by completion in December 2022. This figure does not include other related projects called “project readiness” worth over $4 billion more. They include Ronkonkoma branch double tracking, Main Line Third Track, Jamaica Station Capacity improvements, several thousand additional commuter parking spots, new pocket tracks and others carried off line from the official project budget.
In 2015, the estimated cost for the full scope Gateway Tunnel grew by $3.9 billion, from $20 billion to $23.9 billion, In 2017, the new cost estimate grew another $5.2 billion to $29.1 billion. According to a recent editorial in the New York Daily News, the estimated cost today is now $33 billion. Will this cost continue to grow over time to $40, $50 or even $60 billion? Will Gateway be completed by 2040 versus the promised 2030 date?
The Federal Transit Administration as part of any grant application would ask that the project sponsor conduct an independent project risk assessment for budget, construction feasibility and schedule. This report might reveal that the full build $33 billion Gateway Tunnel project could become the New York version of the infamous Boston “Big Dig.”
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