By Hilary Russ
NEWARK, N.J. (Reuters) - The board overseeing the construction of a new train tunnel under New York's Hudson River agreed on Thursday to solicit information from private-sector construction and finance firms about how to complete the multibillion-dollar project.
The tunnel, part of national rail company Amtrak's $24 billion Gateway Program, could potentially use a public-private partnership (P3) model to build and finance portions of the project, John Porcari, interim director of the Gateway Program Development Corporation, told board trustees.
"We're really looking for the best ideas from around the world," he said. Requesting information from private companies is different than actually requesting bids, which would come later.
Private firms have been "consistently... reaching out throughout the gestation of this whole project" and "there's a very high level of interest," he told reporters after the meeting.
The project is moving ahead as pressure mounts on the region's overburdened transportation system.
This summer, Amtrak plans to replace tracks and switches in its existing century-old tunnel into New York's Pennsylvania Station, the site of recent derailments and the source of misery for tens of thousands of commuters.
In a slide show, Porcari described the need for a new tunnel in the corporation's starkest terms yet, saying there could be "colossal impacts" that cascade nationwide without one.
But there is uncertainty about whether Gateway will ultimately get all the federal funding it needs under the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, the corporation still lacks a permanent director and some internal governance structures, including a procurement process.
Former Port Authority vice-chairman Scott Rechler said in a recent interview that big projects sometimes do not do all the preparatory work necessary if they do not know where all their money will come from.
However, without those things in place, it is harder to get the money, he said.
"Gateway is a little bit in that mode right now," he said. "Even hiring a permanent director. It's hard to fill the job if you don't know where the source of funds is coming from."
Richard Bagger, who represents New Jersey on the corporation's board, said a search committee is meeting weekly with a professional search firm.
"We expect the search to be progressing actively over the summer and are hoping to conclude by September," he told reporters.
Trustees also voted on Thursday to look for an outside law firm to lay out a procurement process and finish other structural matters.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Daniel Bases)