A Hudson River rail tunnel project that cost New Jersey millions of dollars and ignited a political firestorm when it was canceled five years ago could wind up benefiting a similar effort that is in its early phases.

An Amtrak train pulls into Newark Penn Station. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Amtrak's estimated $20 billion Gateway project to increase capacity and relieve congestion on its Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., could be expedited if the decision is made to follow the route that was to be used for the Access to the Region's Core, or ARC. That project was canceled by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in October 2010 amid fears of cost overruns.

At a Monday panel discussion hosted by a trade group, Amtrak officials presented a draft map of the area in northern New Jersey that will be the focus of studies for the new tunnel.

The northern edge of the map follows the existing rail line as it travels east, going under the Palisades in North Bergen and under the Hudson River into New York.

A shaded portion of the study area diverges from the current line and heads southeast, to a different point under the Palisades before it goes under the river.

That route was to be used for the ARC tunnel and has already received the required environmental approvals, said Petra Messick, Amtrak's infrastructure planning manager who discussed the project Monday at an event hosted by the General Contractors Association of New York.

"I think everyone involved in the project recognizes the advantage of using as much of the ARC alignment as is feasible," Messick said.

Messick couldn't estimate how much time or money might be saved by using the ARC route. The current estimate for environmental studies for the tunnel is three to four years, she told the gathering Monday. The tunnel is projected to take at least until 2025 to be completed.

New Jersey Transit is overseeing the environmental review process.
"While Gateway is one potential alignment, during the process, there may be alternative alignments in need of review from an environmental impact standpoint," NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said. "The previous designs, geotechnical studies and real estate easements have value and will be beneficial to the extent they can inform the Hudson Tunnels project."

The existing Hudson River rail tunnel, with one track in each direction, is 105 years old and is the source of regular electrical problems due to age and saltwater damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It has a peak capacity of 24 trains per hour and is considered ill-equipped to handle projected ridership increases in coming decades.

More than $500 million was spent on engineering, environmental studies and construction for the ARC project before Christie pulled the plug over concerns New Jersey would be responsible for overruns he estimated at as much as $5 billion. The project initially was estimated at $8.7 billion.

New Jersey's Democratic congressmen who had pushed for the tunnel, notably the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, harshly criticized Christie. The federal government initially sought to force New Jersey to pay back $271 million the state had spent on the project, but that figure was negotiated down to about $95 million.

Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have said they will endorse a plan that allows the states to pay for half the cost if the government picks up the other half. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last month the states have to reach consensus on the scope of the project before the government can commit funding.

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