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NYC Rail-Tunnel Project Needs More Staff to Tap Billions in Aid

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 8/17/2022 Skylar Woodhouse and Elise Young
A train travels through the North River from Newark, New Jersey, towards New York. © Bloomberg A train travels through the North River from Newark, New Jersey, towards New York.

(Bloomberg) -- Gateway, a more than $12 billion series of tunnel and bridge projects to improve commuter connections between New York and New Jersey, is ramping up hiring in order to gain access to billions in funding over the next year.

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One of the nation’s most crucial infrastructure programs is required to show it has sufficient technical staff and controls in place in order to be eligible for its next round of federal grants, Kris Kolluri, chief executive officer at the Gateway Development Commission, said in an interview. A person close to the projects said the hiring could run into the dozens. 

The program includes building a new rail tunnel underwater between New Jersey and New York, and repairing an existing one that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It also includes replacing the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in New Jersey, a moveable bridge so old that workers sometimes smack it with hammers to close it. 

The projects are critical for the growth and maintenance of the Northeast Corridor, which extends between Washington, DC, and Boston and carries more than 2,200 daily trains. The program is currently expected to last until 2032. Kolluri said the commission could make a schedule update in early fall. 

Kolluri, 53, is a former New Jersey state transportation department commissioner. He was named Gateway CEO last month, one of the first hires for a program that will double rail capacity between the two states. 

Republicans have a history of blocking Gateway. The projects stalled under former President Donald Trump’s administration, and a predecessor tunnel project, with full funding in place, was on the cusp of construction when it was canceled by then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010. 

President Joe Biden has offered more support to the program. In January 2022, the Federal Transit Administration, which provides grants for local bus, subway and rail systems, raised the priority for Gateway to medium-high from medium-low, a step that qualified the projects for more funds. 

Mitch Landrieu, Biden’s infrastructure chief, said in an interview with Bloomberg in June that the US Northeast Corridor rail line would receive “a lot of attention” as far as spending, and called the Gateway plan “a cathedral project.” 

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