Menendez, Booker Demand Railroad Agency Advance Hudson Tunnel Project, Key Piece in Completing Gateway

 

NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee, and Cory Booker today joined a group of senators from all eight states along the Northeast Corridor in demanding the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) finalize and approve plans to immediately advance the Hudson Tunnel Project, a critical element of the Gateway Project. The FRA has failed to give specifics on when it would finalize and approve the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and issue a final Record of Decision to move the Hudson Tunnel Project into the design and construction phases, despite having received the draft EIS in July 2017. The senators have been leading voices in calling on the Trump Administration to complete the Gateway Project, which includes replacing the 110-year-old Portal Bridge and building a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel.

“It is unacceptable that we have yet to receive a definite timeline for completion of the environmental review.  We implore you to provide an update on when we can expect a final EIS and ROD for the Hudson Tunnel Project – including confirmation of the remaining steps necessary to move the project into the design and construction phases,” the senators wrote to FRA Administrator Ronald Batory. “These tubes are old and in need of significant rehabilitation. If they are forced to close, the region would grind to a standstill, and the nation’s economy would suffer immensely.”

A 2019 Regional Plan Association report found that closing either of the North River Tunnel’s two tubes “would cost the national economy $16 billion, reduce home values by $22 billion, and lead to decreased economic productivity; job losses; increased congestion and crashes across the northeastern United States.”

In the 2020 budget, Sen. Menendez helped secure $700 million for the Northeast Corridor, which can be used in part to fund the Gateway Project.

The letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Administrator Batory:

We write to express our deep disappointment that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has neither finalized and approved the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), nor issued a Record of Decision (ROD) to build a new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River and provide essential repairs to the existing North River Tunnel.  Many of us have written you about this issue in the past or raised the issue with you directly when you testified before Congress.  It is unacceptable that we have yet to receive a definite timeline for completion of the environmental review.  We implore you to provide an update on when we can expect a final EIS and ROD for the Hudson Tunnel Project – including confirmation of the remaining steps necessary to move the project into the design and construction phases.

As you know well, the current North River Tunnel tubes are a vital artery for the movement of passengers and services throughout the Northeast Corridor – the most heavily used passenger rail line in the country.  Originally constructed in 1910, the already-aging tunnels suffered significant damage following Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.  These tubes are old and in need of significant rehabilitation.  If they are forced to close, the region would grind to a standstill, and the nation’s economy would suffer immensely.  According to a 2019 report by the Regional Plan Association, closure of even one of the two tubes “would cost the national economy $16 billion, reduce home values by $22 billion, and lead to decreased economic productivity; job losses; increased congestion and crashes across the northeastern United States.”[1]  Inaction to address this looming catastrophe is indefensible and these devastating outcomes are avoidable.  The FRA must take immediate action to move the Hudson Tunnel Project forward.  

At a hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on June 19, 2019, you confirmed that the FRA has completed 95 processing steps related to the environmental review for the Hudson Tunnel Project.  At that time, you said that there were another 27 steps yet to be completed, but provided your assurance that the review was “actively being worked on.”[2]  Over seven months later, we have yet to receive a more specific answer as to when we can expect a final decision.  The completion of the EIS is critical to preventing costly delays and ensuring that the project moves quickly toward construction.  Further delays risk the shutdown of one or both of the existing 110-year-old tunnels – which would be devastating to our constituents, threaten public safety, and cause potentially irreversible damage to our regional and national economies.

Please provide a detailed explanation of the remaining steps for completing the FRA’s review of the draft EIS for the Hudson Tunnel Project.  Additionally, please confirm the estimated timeline for completing each step – including confirmation of when we can expect a final ROD.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.  We look forward to your timely and unabridged response to our request.

Sincerely,

 

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