Feds Must Fix Hudson River Tunnel Before Catastrophic Failure Cripples New York

New York's economy would be paralyzed if the 100-plus-year-old Gateway Tunnel were to collapse.
New York's economy would be paralyzed if the 100-plus-year-old Gateway Tunnel were to collapse.

The federal government’s failure to fund a new Hudson River tunnel will blow a $16-billion hole in the regional economy because train capacity will be cut by 75 percent during four years of repairs to the existing 110-year-old tubes, a new report shows.

The Regional Plan Association analysis takes into account massive hits if the so-called Gateway Project is not built — millions of dollars in productivity lost to longer commutes on Amtrak and NJ Transit, an estimated $407 million lost because there will be more automobile crashes, $1 billion lost to truck delays, and nearly $3 billion lost in the form of federal and state tax revenue. The resulting disaster would also cause a $22-billion drop in real estate values, according to the report, which was issued with the engineering and design firm Arup.

“Every day that we aren’t building the Gateway project, we’re one day closer to real economic and social calamity that would be felt across the tri-state area and beyond,” said Tom Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association. “From job availability to housing prices, the price of household goods, and even the cost of air travel, every sector of our economy would feel the effects of a partial shutdown of the trans-Hudson tunnel. … It is a slow-moving, predictable crisis which we have the capacity to prevent.”

Amtrak is on the hook for rehabilitating the 110-year-old two-track rail line, which was damaged by superstorm Sandy in 2012. But the railroad is counting on the feds to chip in half the cost in order to first build a new tunnel that would ultimately double its capacity. A new tunnel is crucial, the RPA says, because without it, one of the two existing tunnels would have to be shut down for repairs, which would reduce the capacity from 24 trains per hour to just six, according to the report. 

In 2015, Gov. Cuomo and then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered to pick up half the tab for the estimated $13-billion tunnel as part of the Gateway Project if the federal government funded the rest, but that cash now remains in limbo under President Trump.

The Regional Plan Association has previously said that multiple tunnels are needed in the long term. But the Gateway Project, originally known as “Access to the Region’s Core,” is the most pressing. The original project was begun in 2009, but was terminated by Christie, who didn’t want to pay for it. That tunnel would have been completed in 2018.

The new tunnel is necessary to increase capacity to 48 trains per hour — and allow for high-speed rail service. It has no completion date at this time.

An earlier version of the story missed calculated one of the figures related to train capacity. Streetsblog regrets the mathematical error.

  • Elizabeth F

    Sure, this will hurt across the region. But the biggest impact on real estate values will be in NJ. I have hard time finding much sympathy, after Christie’s poor decision and subsequent illegal transfer of PA funds to a local NJ project (the Pulaski Skyway). Not to mention Christie’s lap-dog support for our current president, who is now personally standing in the way of funding this critical project.

  • DrGecko

    If train capacity in a single tunnel would be 6 trains per hour instead of 24 (because a train has to completely clear the tunnel before a train going the other way can enter), why does the first paragraph say that capacity will be cut in half?

  • qrt145
  • qrt145

    I would expect property values in New York to increase, since some people would try to move from NJ, but the report doesn’t consider that angle.

  • Daphna

    Wouldn’t failure of this tunnel hurt New Jersey far more than New York? Failure of this tunnel might even boost New York real estate prices because all those people who live in NJ and commute in to NYC would either have to quit their jobs or move into NY instead.

    This report looks at the region as a whole whereas NY and NJ would have distinctly different impact from the failure with NJ loosing revenue and NY gaining those former NJ taxpayers.

  • Elizabeth F

    Because they got it wrong. We’ve known for a long time capacity would be cut by 75%.

  • Elizabeth F

    It might… but that is a narrow and shortsighted way of looking at things. NJ is an intrinsic part of the region, not just a bedroom community. Many warehouses, bakeries, electronic exchanges, etc. critical to day-to-day life in NYC are located West of the Hudson — as is the main port serving NYC (Port of Elizabeth; the port in Brooklyn has since been converted to luxury condos).

    Everyone will suffer without critical trans-Hudson links. There is no practical way the tunnels can carry 75% of the passenger traffic currently going by rail. Commutes will suffer, freight transportation will suffer. Some employers in NYC will find it harder to fill jobs, especially lower-paying jobs, because NJ residents can’t make it to them. Some NJ residents will just leave the workforce — or find a job in NJ. The Northeast Corridor — including commuting and commerce to Philadelphia and DC — will suffer. And LGA + JFK will be unable to take up the slack of a crippled Amtrak. The list goes on, everybody will suffer.

    Some businesses would move to NJ, or move parts of their office to NJ, in order to retain valuable workers. NY could lose business tax revenue, and business real estate in NY could go down.

    Yes, residental real estate could go down in NJ and up in NY; but given the persistent housing shortage and obscene prices in NY, that’s nothing to celebrate.

  • Elizabeth F

    Increasing the housing crunch in NYC is not a good thing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, it could stabilize the incipient rapid decline of Long Island, if only there was an LIRR connection to Grand Central and a 3rd mainline track.

  • Elizabeth F

    It could also stabilize decline of commerical property in Newark, as businesses decrease their NYC footprint, opening offices in NJ for their NJ employees. Of course, the effect of this would be declining commercial property values in NYC, even as residential values rise. Neither of which would really be a good thing.

  • Daphna

    I understand that the region as a whole would suffer because it is so interconnected. But NJ should be especially motivated to get this tunnel built and should be putting up more funds that NY.

  • bolwerk

    I’d guess it would a tiny impact in the constellation of factors influencing real estate values. Some riders would probably rather change jobs and stay in New Jersey, some would probably leave the region, some would probably grin and bear it, blah blah.

    The big impact is probably on other commerce.

  • Elizabeth F

    They should have been motivated. But instead, they Christie cancelled a tunnel that would have benefited NJ first and foremost; and then hoped maybe he could get NY to pay more for it in the future.

    It’s like saying “I’m find if my leg gets amputated, as long as you lose a finger too. I’m hoping that you’ll be concerned enough about your finger to stop this terrible thing from happening.”

    This is why I don’t live in NJ — the state that seems to be more concerned about the price of gas at the pump, than whether the roads actually work.

  • sbauman

    Wouldn’t failure of this tunnel hurt New Jersey far more than New York?

    Not for NJ residents who currently use the tunnel. Their income is taxed by New York State.

  • cjstephens

    Can we please stop perpetuating the myth that Christie killed this proposal? What he killed was a completely different proposal (ARC) that would have dumped NJ trains at a dead end 200 feet below Macy’s. While he may have done it for political gain, the crazy version he killed was pushed through as far as it went also for political gain (Dems needed some “shovel ready” projects for photo ops, even if they were colossally bad ideas). Really the only thing the two projects had in common was that they were both tunnels between New York and New Jersey.

    Also: that was NINE YEARS AGO. In the meantime, both NY and NJ have made zero progress in finding the funding to build what everyone agrees is a necessary piece of infrastructure. A new tunnel is vital to the economies of NY and NJ. We’re in a boom economy in both states. Let Trenton and Albany find the money and make it happen. Unfortunately, there are grown-ups in charge in neither state; they would rather just use this as a way of complaining about Trump rather than doing anything to avoid a crisis in their home states.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    And the reason you can’t build a rail bridge for 2 tracks at half the cost ($2 billion) of the Cuomo/Tappan Zee bridge is ??

  • SBDriver

    What would the rail bridge connect to?
    That’s why.

  • Joe R.

    If it has to be ~200′ above the water like the other Hudson River bridges the gradients won’t work out. Penn Station is already something like 60′ below sea level. You would need to climb 60′ to ~200′ above sea level in about one mile. That’s a gradient of 5%, which is way more than most railroad trains can handle. The ~2% grades in the tunnel are about the limit for the type of train traffic into Penn Station.

  • Joe R.

    Another set of tunnels is only part of it. You need to 4-track all the way to Newark. The 2 tracks currently between the tunnel exit and Newark are what is constraining capacity.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    Second story of New PABT, Penn. Post Office Annex, etc. With a bridge you’re no longer chained to Penn. And C-TZ clearance is 139 feet.

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  • brucewhain

    NJ Transit had large budget and off-hour closures not utilized to address the lining (I’d like to know what happened to that money.) but decided instead to attempt extorting the funds for their planned boondoggle by using the North River Tunnel as a cautionary tale in Booker’s and Cuomo’s videos. East Side Access is the cautionary tale – in terms of new circuitous and serpentine substandard tunnels that cost too much to build and maintain. They’re not going to get away with this. rail-nyc-access.com/rail-city-access

  • James O Donnell

    Why is this a federal issue?

    Two of the richest states in the US, and they expect a federal bail-out — via taxpayers’ money of course — to solve thier inability to pay for their local infrastructure needs.

    America says “suck it.”

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