A New York City passenger rail tunnel, widely considered among the most vital U.S. infrastructure projects, was canceled once and revived, only to be stuck in limbo during President Donald Trump’s term. The Gateway Program to ease the toughest East Coast train bottleneck has brighter prospects under President Joe Biden, who for decades commuted on Amtrak between Delaware and Washington. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a former city mayor, says he wants the project to move forward; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Brooklyn native, has said the rail project will likely get more federal funding. Polly Trottenberg, a former New York City transportation commissioner, will serve as Buttigieg’s deputy.

1. What would Gateway do?

It would double rail capacity between New Jersey and New York’s Pennsylvania Station with a new route under the Hudson River and a rehabilitated existing tunnel. It also would add tracks and concourses at Penn, the nation’s busiest train station. Funding is in place for another component, the replacement of the Portal Bridge, a swing span over the Hackensack River whose occasional malfunctioning can strand tens of thousands of travelers.

2. Why is it seen as so urgent?

Age, salt and traffic. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 flooded the link, called the North River tunnel, with corrosive saltwater, bringing trains to a halt for days. Amtrak calls the tunnel safe but increasingly unreliable because contaminants that seeped into the concrete continue to cause cracks and weaken the power system. First opened in 1910, the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) tunnel consists of two single-track tubes. Each weekday it handles about 450 trains, or 200,000 passenger trips, servicing Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and NJ Transit’s commuter lines.

3. How long can the tunnel last?

No one knows. In 2014, Joseph Boardman, Amtrak’s then-chief executive officer, gave it about 20 years, but officials warn that it could become unusable far sooner. The rehabilitation alone calls for each tube to close for two years, one at a time. That would cut peak service by 75%. The governors of New York and New Jersey say a total tunnel shutdown would lead to a regional economic catastrophe and upend the Northeast Corridor, an area that produces 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product.

4. What would fixing this take?

About eight years for tunnel construction, then four years to get both existing tubes rehabilitated and in service. The project’s estimated cost is $11.6 billion. The Portal Bridge replacement’s total is $1.8 billion.

5. Who will pay for Gateway?

Amtrak has committed $1.2 billion. A combined $5.5 billion would come from New York, New Jersey and the bi-state Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees airports, bridges, tunnels, a subway and ocean ports. Project officials are seeking $5.5 billion in federal funds.

6. Why has this process taken so long?

Officials began planning a second tunnel, called Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC, in 1995, and scored full funding of $8.7 billion and a 2018 completion date. But it was canceled in 2010 by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie -- a Republican who would run for president in 2016 -- citing poor design and potential cost overruns. He then spent some of the ARC money on road projects that otherwise would have required a gasoline-tax increase. Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, proposed Gateway in 2011.

7. What did Trump do?

In 2018, he threatened to shut down the government if a spending bill directed federal funding for the Hudson tunnel. The Trump administration put it near the bottom of a projects list competing for federal mass-transit help. Gateway was ineligible for federal taxpayer money, they said, because New York and New Jersey hadn’t pledged enough cash.

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