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NJ Transit moves ahead on Gateway Project environmental work

The giant endeavor to dig a new tunnel under the Hudson River took its first concrete step forward when the board of NJ Transit voted unanimously to lead a study of the project’s environmental impacts. The study, which is required by federal law, probably will cost millions of dollars and take several years, based on comparisons with similar projects in the past, but the actual cost and timeline remain unknown.

NJ Transit officials said “It’s a step in the right direction,” said Bruce Meisel, vice chairman of the agency’s board. “This is a project that needs to get done.” NJ Transit was the lead agency on a previous effort to build a tunnel called ARC, which was cancelled by Governor Christie in 2010. The environmental review for that project cost $24.7 million and took six years to complete, according to NJ Transit.

This time around, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has promised to accelerate the permitting timeline, which could also reduce costs. Also, Amtrak has agreed to cover the cost of outside consultants who would perform the bulk of the work on an environmental review, leaving NJ Transit to pay just the salaries of staff overseeing the contract. “I think it’s too early to come up with a firm cost estimate,” said Ronnie Hakim, NJ Transit’s executive director. “Clearly it’s an exciting day for NJ Transit and for the region.”

Over the last year, politicians and transportation officials in both New Jersey and New York have emphasized the need to move quickly because the current Northeast Corridor train tunnel is deteriorating, due partly to the fact that it’s 105 years old and also because of flooding from Superstorm Sandy, which left behind a residue of salts and chemicals that continues to erode the tunnel’s mechanical systems and concrete. Officials at Amtrak, which owns the tunnel, said the tunnel has at most 19 years of life left before one of its two tubes must be closed for a complete overhaul.

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