"Without this, if the tunnels collapse, we will go into recession in this region and then in probably the country," said Sen. Chuck Schumer. "It's that significant."

DALLAS — The Transportation Department will expedite the environmental review for the first major piece of the $24 billion Gateway Program as officials push to get the tunnel replacement project off the ground in 2019.

Amtrak and the Transportation Department pledged last year to provide at least 50% of the funding for the rehabilitation of two 106-year rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River that were flooded by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The Gateway Program also includes rebuilding of rail capacity on the New Jersey approaches and adding station capacity within Manhattan's Penn Station.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Oct. 14 that information from a number of federal agencies regarding the Gateway's Hudson Tunnel project would be posted onto a permitting website that would allow easy tracking of project developments and timelines.

"The U.S. Department of Transportation is using every tool at our disposal to move the Gateway Program forward, and there has been major progress on the federal side over the past year," he said. "We've made the project eligible for potentially billions in federal grants and loans [and] accelerated the environmental permitting process."

The Gateway Program will test the nation's resolve to restore its aging infrastructure, Foxx said.

"There is no project in America that is as much a referendum on our present day capacity to do what's right for the American people in our nation than the Gateway project," he said.

The Hudson Tunnel environmental review should be completed in less than three years with construction work beginning soon afterward, said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

"It's going to be expedited. So we expect that to be finished by early 2019 and construction to commence then," Schumer said.

Schumer, who could become Senate majority leader next year if Democrats take control of the Senate in November, said the next president's transportation secretary must be dedicated to completing Gateway.

"The next secretary of transportation won't get confirmed unless there is enthusiasm about the project," Schumer said at the news conference announcing the expedited review. "The next guy or gal is going to have to be committed to this project."

Gateway is the most important federal transportation effort in the country, Schumer said.

"Without this, if the tunnels collapse, we will go into recession in this region and then in probably the country," he said. "It's that significant."

Around 200,000 rail passengers use the tunnels daily.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has estimated a $100 million daily cost to the nation in transportation-related impacts and productivity losses if they were to be taken out of service for just a 24-hour period.

The existing tunnels, which are also used by New Jersey Transit, were badly damaged with seawater by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The tunnels were shut down for five days.

A report released in May by the nonpartisan reform coalition Common Good said a three-year review and permitting process would increase costs for the estimated $24 billion project by more than $3 billion. An additional two-year delay would boost the price tag by nearly $10 billion.

"The advantages of moving this project quickly are positive for the economy and to the environment and delaying would be tremendously negative to the environment and the cost of infrastructure," said Phillip K. Howard, chairman of the group and author of the report. "The Gateway project is of essential importance to the region's economy."

New York is the "beating heart of the Northeast Corridor" rail system, said Amtrak chairman Tony Coscia.

"We are doing it," he said. "We are building this project. There is no turning back."

Subscribe Now

Independent and authoritative analysis and perspective for the bond buying industry.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.