New York rail tunnel project again gets low grade from feds

NEWARK, N.J. — A $13 billion project to build a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey received another blow from federal authorities Friday in the form of a rating that continues to make it ineligible for critical grant funding.

The Federal Transit Administration released its ratings for infrastructure projects around the country and rated the Hudson River tunnel project medium-low, the same rating it gave several months ago. Under FTA guidelines, projects with that rating are ineligible for Capital Investment Grants.

Those grants are being sought by the tunnel project partners, which include New Jersey Transit, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Amtrak.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez called Friday's rating "ludicrous" and said the rating "is as tied to reality as President Trump is tied to the truth."

The Democratic congressional delegations from both states have accused the Trump administration of holding up funding for the tunnel for political payback.

The federal Department of Transportation, meanwhile, has said the project needs more financial commitment from the states.

New Jersey and New York plan to use long-term federal loans to pay for 50 percent of the project, between $6 billion and $7 billion, with the federal government paying for the other half with grants.

The Department of Transportation has said that's asking for too much and said Friday that the most recent financial plan submitted by project organizers "did not address the key concerns identified by FTA in last's year rating."

The tunnel is more than a century old and operates at peak capacity, accommodating roughly 200,000 passengers each day. An already aging electrical system and crumbling concrete walls were damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, leading Amtrak, the tunnel's operator, to estimate one of the tunnel's two tubes could fail within the next decade or so.

That would reduce peak service by 75 percent and cause a ripple effect up and down the rail corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

"The U.S. DOT is further delaying this critical infrastructure project and putting the region and the entire national economy in jeopardy," Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Only a dysfunctional Washington could reject $6 billion in state funding to rebuild federally-owned tunnels, which are in dire condition."

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