Study shows increased commuter traffic, highlights need for Gateway Project

The North River rail tunnel, connecting New York City and northern New Jersey, is 111 years old. And officials say repairing it is a race against time. 

The tunnel was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy and is well past its design life, causing delays and service disruptions for commuters. 

The Gateway Project was launched in 2011 to repair the two-track tunnel and build a new one, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, some have wondered if the same level of commuters will return.

"It's a question of when trains become crowded again if we don't increase capacity, not whether they will," Christopher Jones with the Regional Plan Association explained. "We found that on the heaviest travel days, that’s likely to be a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, trains are likely to be as crowded by the time the new tunnel is completed as they were before the pandemic."

A new study by the Regional Plan Association found that by 2030, the number of commuters will surpass the number of riders in 2019 by 10%. Even with hybrid and remote work schedules, trans-Hudson ridership is still expected to be between 15% and 32% higher than in 2019 on peak weekdays.

"We need all of this infrastructure to be able to handle that capacity" Felicia Park-Rogers, the director of regional infrastructure projects at Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said. "People shouldn't be like cows in a truck trying to get to work."

However, the Gateway Project has hit numerous roadblocks. 

Funding for the project is likely to be split between the federal government, New York, and New Jersey but is expected to cost around $30 billion.

Federal officials have expressed support for the project, but with Democratic majorities hanging in the balance this election cycle, it is not clear how quickly this project will receive the green light.

"We do worry that if we find ourselves next year in a situation where the delegation from this region does not have the kind of seniority and influence that it currently has, things could get more complicated," Tom Wright, the president and CEO of Regional Plan Association, said. "And what we'd rather do is just get all this done."

The Gateway project is expected though to create over 100 thousand jobs and spur 19 billion dollars of economic activity.

"The opportunity to bring good-paying jobs to our region during planning, construction, and operation is necessary to continue the forward momentum," Laura Colacurcio, vice president at Association for a Better New York, said. "We cannot wait until 2040 or 2050 for this project."

The project was formally approved by the federal government in May 2021 and construction is expected to commence in 2023. 

Construction is expected to last at least a decade.