Three major tunnel projects that connect key transportation arteries on the East Coast are advancing. The Hudson Tunnel between New York and New Jersey, the Howard Street Tunnel in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Virginia recently scored new funding, started construction and received crucial permits, respectively.
Read on below for information about each project.
Hudson Tunnel gets key permits
New York/New Jersey
On Dec. 1, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved permits to allow construction of a new two-track tunnel and revitalization of the existing tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey – clearing the final bureaucratic hurdle before construction can begin. The much anticipated but long delayed $12.3 billion Hudson Tunnel project aims to ease a major Northeast rail bottleneck. A second tunnel will be constructed first to avoid excessive rail passenger delays, and then the North River Tunnel, built in 1910, will be revamped.
Almost 10 years ago, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and the U.S., and hit New York and New Jersey particularly hard. Among the infrastructure Sandy damaged was the North River Tunnel, two single-track electrified tubes approximately 2.5 miles long which accommodate NJ Transit train travel and comprise a key part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The tunnel was still operational but damaged, and the project will provide much-needed fixes. Once complete, the project will allow for twice as many Amtrak trains to run under the Hudson River, and will open up access to NJ Transit lines that don’t go to New York.
Construction of the Hudson River Tunnel is slated to start in the summer of 2023, once the funding comes together, and is expected to take seven years. Once that is completed, revamping the existing North River Tunnel will take another three years, according to the project website.
Howard Street Tunnel expansion breaks ground
Just to the east in Baltimore, construction on the long-awaited Howard Street Tunnel Expansion project began on Nov. 29, after nearly a decade of negotiations between the various entities involved. The 126-year-old Howard Street Tunnel runs 1.7 miles under the city, but currently is about 19 inches too low for freight trains to haul double-stacked containers that are common on railways elsewhere in the U.S. Additional clearance will be added by lowering tracks and raising the top, allowing the movement of about 160,000 more containers annually from the fast-growing Port of Baltimore.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called the project "an absolute game-changer" for East Coast freight transportation. The project will generate about 6,550 construction jobs, according to the Governor’s Office press release, and is expected to be completed in three to four years.
Project upgrades are not limited to the tunnel: Contractors will also repair connected bridges, lower tracks in some areas and upgrade the tunnel to accommodate modern intermodal trains. Two bridges — the Harford Road and Guilford Avenue spans — will be replaced, and the North Avenue bridge will also be renovated.
The project marks one of the largest federal, state and public-private rail partnerships. The Federal Railroad Administration is managing the project under the National Environmental Policy Act, while CSX, the rail owners and operators, are in charge of engineering design. The Maryland Port Administration secured funding and will work with FRA and CSX on the project.
Costs for the tunnel project stand at about $466 million, with $202.5 million coming from Maryland, $125 million in a federal Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grant, $22.5 million from Pennsylvania, $113 million from CSX and $3 million in federal highway formula funding, according to the press release.
By using "advances in construction technology," CSX and the state of Maryland were able to cut the budget well below initial cost projections of between $1 billion and $4 billion, though neither entity responded as of press time to questions about what specific technology the release is referring to.
"In preparation for this project, it was imperative that we bring constructability into the design very early in the process," a CSX spokesperson said via email. "We’ll be utilizing a design-build project delivery method to help ensure the work can progress productively. Many of the technologies that we’ll be using are tried and true, but CSX is looking at creative ways on how to handle the materials that will be needed during construction including using specialized equipment and rail cars to efficiently transfer materials in and out of the tunnel."
CSX and the state of Maryland have not responded to questions about whether contractors for the project have been selected.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel receives important financing
Last month, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel (CBBT) crossing project got a major boost when USDOT approved a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan for up to $338.6 million. The funds will be used to build the 1-mile Parallel Thimble Shoal Tunnel, which will connect two southbound trestles of the existing CBBT, according to a USDOT press release. The new lanes are expected to ease congestion and improve safety.
The Chesapeake Tunnel Joint Venture, a team consisting of Dragados USA and Schiavone Construction Co., began construction on the tunnel in 2017, which is projected to be completed in 2024. Total construction costs of the Parallel Thimble Shoal Tunnel Project are about $756 million according to the CBBT site, with funds coming from TIFIA and Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank (VTIB) loans, general funds and toll revenue.
The 23-mile CBBT, which opened in 1964, was designated at the time as "one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world." The CBBT provides the only direct link between Virginia Beach and South Hampton Roads but needs repairs, and large vehicles and everyday maintenance frequently slow down traffic.
There is also no pathway to divert traffic for emergency or disabled vehicles. When complete, the new tunnel will add two lanes of southbound traffic, while the existing tunnel will be used for two northbound lanes.