It’s been long in coming, but at least one component of Gateway, the $23 billion plan to steel the Northeast Corridor’s arthritic spine, appears to be happening.
On Thursday afternoon, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, one of the several bureaucracies charged with repairing the long-deteriorating rail connection between the two states, announced “the largest commitment to Gateway to date.”
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The bi-state authority’s board, which is controlled by the governors of New York and New Jersey, approved $300 million toward replacing the Portal Bridge, the 106-year old Hackensack River span that moves to accommodate waterborne traffic, and then too often gets stuck in the open position.
Each day, 450 NJ Transit and Amtrak trains carrying 200,000 passengers use the bridge.
The $300 million will go toward servicing a low-cost federal loan for the $1.5 billion project, which will replace the existing bridge with a new one that doesn’t move, but has a higher clearance to allow for the passage of river traffic. NJ Transit will provide another roughly $300 million, its spokeswoman said.
Amtrak and the U.S. Transportation Department will provide the rest.
“Today’s development is a major step forward,” John Porcari, interim executive director of the still-formative Gateway Development Corporation, said in a statement. “It is encouraging to see the states of New York and New Jersey, by way of the Port Authority, committing local funds to the Portal North Bridge project.”
The allocation of Port Authority funding is contingent on its inclusion of an indeterminate amount of funding in its upcoming capital plan for a much more expensive element of Gateway: a new two-track Hudson River tunnel to replace the one that was already falling apart before Hurricane Sandy inundated it with corrosive saltwater.
Roughly a year ago, the governors of New York and New Jersey agreed to come up with funding for half of the projected costs of Gateway. The federal government and Amtrak would come through with the rest.
While the Portal Bridge funding represents a big step forward for Gateway, the two governors have yet to indicate how they plan to finance the rest of it. Representatives for Port Authority, which is supposed to spearhead the creation of the states’ Gateway financing plan, wouldn’t say on Thursday when that financing plan might be completed.
They did, however, say the Portal Bridge funding is contingent upon the inclusion of some tunnel funding in the Port’s upcoming capital plan. How much tunnel funding is included will presumably be determined by that larger and still-incomplete Gateway financing framework. Port Authority chairman John Degnan hopes to have a draft capital plan out by the end of December.
“Portal Bridge North is now fully funded,” Port Authority executive director Pat Foye said.
Construction is expected to begin in 2018.