NYC rail tunnel, bridge could get boost from spending bill

A key infrastructure project seen as critical to the future of rail travel in the northeast could get a jump-start from money contained in a spending bill being negotiated in Congress .

An aide to Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said the bill contains more than a half-billion dollars toward the Gateway project to build a second rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey and replace a century-old bridge.

Lawmakers had sought $900 million for the plan, but President Donald Trump objected.

Congress must pass the spending bill by Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

The money available for the Gateway project wouldn't be subject to approval by the Department of Transportation, three people with direct knowledge of the negotiations said Wednesday. They weren't authorized to discuss details of the bill because it hadn't been released publicly.

Both Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao have said they oppose the project unless New York and New Jersey pick up a greater share of the cost.

New York and New Jersey have committed to picking up half the estimated $11 billion price tag. The current spending bill also gives them the chance to compete for $2.9 billion in federal grants.

The estimated $1.5 billion project for a swing bridge located just outside Newark has received environmental approvals and could begin construction in a matter of months if Congress passes the current spending bill.

Some of the money also could be used to push ahead with the tunnel project. Final environmental approval could be given as soon as the end of this month, and construction is tentatively scheduled to begin the middle or latter part of 2019.

Officials overseeing the Gateway project — a long-range plan that envisions expanding New York's Penn Station and other improvements — said last week delaying the bridge start could cost up to $150,000 per day, and delaying the tunnel start could add up to $1.2 million per day to the tab.

Democratic New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer said the project has bi-partisan support in Congress and that he was optimistic about the money being approved.

"This is not a parochial issue, this is a national economic issue," he said.

The bridge, built in 1910, swings open to allow boats to pass under on the Hackensack River. It carries 450 trains per day to and from New York. Last week, workers performing maintenance couldn't get it closed properly, causing several hours of delays and inconveniencing tens of thousands of travelers in the corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

The existing tunnel was built more than a century ago and suffered extensive saltwater damage from 2012's Superstorm Sandy.