Winds of Change

There have been some interesting developments on high-profile projects recently on both coasts. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who became governor in January 2019, said in his state of the state address in February that he thinks the California High-Speed Rail project – linking Los Angeles and San Francisco – would be too expensive and take too long to build. He did say that the link from Merced to Bakersfield in the state’s Central Valley would move forward.

If this marks the end of the project, it is not only a loss for the tunneling community – the link from Merced to San Jose (and eventually San Francisco) and from Bakersfield to Los Angeles would involve significant amounts of tunneling – but for the state itself. According to, $10.7 billion worth of work is already underway. Assuming that portion of the line is completed, the state will be left with what the Los Angeles Times calls “a 171-mile route through the almond orchards, orange groves, vineyards and oil field of the Central Valley.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Feb. 19 that it intends to cancel $929 million in federal grant funds earmarked for the project, as well as its intent to seek the return of $2.5 billion already allocated for the project.

In New York, questions continue for the Gateway Project as the FTA gave the Hudson River tunnel a priority rating of “medium-low,” – making it ineligible for federal Capital Investment Grants. According to reports, Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen said the project is a local responsibility, and therefore should be paid for locally.

While it seems logical that local projects should be paid for locally, in this case the scope involves a critical portion of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor connecting Boston and Washington, D.C. – the busiest passenger rail line in the United States. The existing Hudson Tunnels – built more than 100 years ago – carry the line, and a one-day shutdown of one of the two tubes can have regional and national economic impacts of $100 million, according to a report from N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy’s office.

In California, the high-speed rail program is a visionary project with the potential to transform transportation in that state for generations to come. In New York, it is about assuring unimpeded flow in the country’s largest metropolis and financial capital. In both cases, we need to be able to plan and fund these vital infrastructure projects in ways that are not susceptible to the whims of politicians.


The 45th ITA-AITES General Assembly and World Tunnel Congress (WTC), being held May 3-9 in Naples, Italy, promises to be a great event that brings together tunneling professionals from around the globe, including representatives from the United States. The event is co-hosted by the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA-AITES) and the Italian Tunnelling Society (SIG).

Similar to our national events – RETC and NAT – WTC combines a full slate of technical papers, exhibit hall, networking events, technical tours and excursions. Some suggest that WTC stands for “World Travel Club,” and the host countries certainly come through with locations that are destinations on their own merit.

The theme of this year’s WTC is “Tunnel and Underground Cities: Engineering and Innovation Meet Archeology, Architecture and Art” – linking tunnel engineering and construction with the rich traditions of Naples. For information on WTC, visit

June 16-19, the Rapid Excavation and Tunneling Conference (RETC) heads to Chicago for the largest tunneling event in North America. The venue is the Hyatt Regency Chicago in the heart of downtown. For more information visit

We at TBM: Tunnel Business Magazine look forward to seeing many of you there!

Jim Rush, Editor/Publisher

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