By David Cruz
History may remember the Port Authority board’s final meeting of 2015 as the day the Gateway Tunnel project officially went from pipe dream to economic imperative. In a little over a month, the $20 billion Tunnel project has gotten a promise of 50 percent funding from the federal government and a guarantee of regular funding sources in the federal Highway and Transportation bill. In his official report to the commissioners today, Executive Director Pat Foye said the stakeholders are already starting to hammer out details.
“Beginning right after the announcement the Port Authority has been convening and meeting in person and by phone regularly with our colleagues at AMTRAK and NJ Transit to coordinate our efforts with another meeting scheduled for Monday,” announced Executive Director Pat Foye. “Cooperation and coordination between our agencies will be key to success in a project of this magnitude, so we’ve been very focused on working together.”
Working together will be critical for a project the likes of which the region hasn’t seen since the Lincoln tunnel project. A new entity – a special purpose development corporation – will be created to manage the project.
“Governance of this entity will include board representation by New York and New Jersey, through the Port Authority, USDOT and AMTRAK, with a Port Authority member serving as chair and the AMTRAK member as vice chair,” explained Foye. “All board level decisions will require unanimity.”
Foye said the agency will call on its legislative allies to expedite the permitting process, which will be critical to keeping the plan on its 10-year pace. He said every year they can take of the construction schedule means about a billion in costs.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us at the Port Authority to prove that we can be the kind of agency in solving the region’s problems that we once enjoyed the reputation of having,” said Chairman John Degnan.
But this being a Port Authority board meeting, critics abounded, not so much for the Gateway project, which in its nascent phase is still shiny and new, but over its openness on budget and other matters.
“The budget was released on November 30; you all are voting on it today,” complained Tri-State transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool. “11 days is really an insufficient amount of time for the public to review a 100-page document and I’m sure for all of you who hold various positions outside of this one.”
The clock is now officially ticking on construction of the Gateway Tunnel and while there still significant hurdles to clear, the hope is that the current tunnel can stay intact while the Gateway gets moved to the front burner.