Why we need to build gateway now
© Getty Images

Why is the nation’s most pressing infrastructure project stuck languishing on a desk at the U.S. Department of Transportation?

Just over a year ago, the final environment documents for the Gateway Project’s new Hudson River tunnel between New York and New Jersey were submitted after only 22 months of work –roughly half the typical time for a project of this scale and on time for completion by March 30, 2018.


The environmental reviews are essentially completed, yet the department has been silent on why the review is being buried. There is at least one lawsuit filed to find out why.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE has blamed infrastructure delays on environmental and permitting requirements and directing agencies to speed up the process. However, it seems the Transportation Department received a different message and has failed to release the completed Record of Decision, which is essential to moving the project forward.

Political motivations aside, one thing is clear: with release of the final environmental review, critical preliminary work can begin on the tunnel right now with already committed funds from New York and New Jersey. These significant steps would prepare the work sites on both sides of the Hudson and will ultimately reduce the time needed for the project. Prep work on the Portal North Bridge section of the Gateway Program, which had its environmental impact statement approved in 2017, is nearing completion in anticipation of full funding. 

Releasing the Record of Decision will immediately put people to work.

It is impossible to overstate how crucial this project is to the nation. As the only commuter rail link between New York and New Jersey, Gateway serves 200,000 passengers and 450 trains daily, and links together 20 percent of the nation’s economy. Ridership has roughly doubled since 1990 and is expected to continue to grow if the trains are able to run in good working order.

Built in 1910, and badly damaged in Superstorm Sandy, the 110-year-old Hudson River tunnel is more vulnerable than ever. It already causes major delays on a regular basis and is a major bottleneck on the busiest stretch of track in the US. But this is far from the worst case scenario: a partial shutdown of any of the major components of Gateway would have major negative economic, environmental, and safety impacts from Boston to Washington, D.C. and reverberate across the country. A recent report from Regional Plan Association pegged the costs at $16 billion in lost economic activity, $22 billion in lost home value, and slower commutes for nearly half a million commuters.

There is no time to waste in pushing this project forward but thankfully, there’s a public movement afoot to continue building public support for the project. As active partners of the Build Gateway Now coalition, we represent a group of over 35 civic, labor and business leaders who all know Gateway is a priority for the region and the nation’s economy.

It is far past time for the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a Record of Decision to help us move this project forward. If it doesn’t happen now, it will cost the economy billions in lost revenue and countless hours of lost time for the 100,000 daily riders who are relying on us to get it done. As Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Ex-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis MORE (D-N.Y.) recently stated, “there is no reason why Gateway Projects that are shovel ready should be waiting for the signature of the secretary of Transportation when we are racing against a doomsday clock.” We must get this project done before time runs out.

Scott Slesinger is the Senior Policy Advisor for Federal Affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He has been involved in legislative, environmental and development issues for over 40 years.