NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The new tunnel at the heart of the multi-billion dollar plan to upgrade and overhaul the rail connections between New York and New Jersey is well on its way to becoming reality, officials said Friday.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez held a news conference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on the Gateway project‘s progress.

“We’re not there yet, we’re not finished, but the plan is now in place and there’s no stopping us now,” Schumer said, adding a number of major milestones have been reached in what he calls the nation’s most important transportation project.

“Without this, if the tunnels collapse, we will go into recession in this region and then in probably the country. It’s that significant,” Schumer said.

The federal government has committed to fast tracking environmental reviews and streamlining the permitting process, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.

“We’ve carried the ball to the 50 yard line, every yard from here on is going to be a yard in the cloud of dust,” said Foxx, emphasizing he’ll need the support of New York and New Jersey to advance to the goal line.

Both Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie have said they are on board.

The estimated $23 billion plan includes new rail tunnels under the Hudson River to replace the century-old tunnels damaged by Superstorm Sandy, and a new connection at Penn Station.

Missing from Friday’s event was anyone from NJ TRANSIT, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.

The agency’s board met Thursday for the first time in three months and hired a permanent executive director. The job was vacant for 11 months.

Critics say NJ TRANSIT has been starved of funding, safety has suffered and the agency is in crisis.

Aiello asked Foxx whether the federal government could potentially take over the agency.

“If more aggressive steps are needed to ensure that these things get done, we will take all appropriate steps at appropriate times, but right now we’re monitoring the situation,” he said.

Among the many safety concerns is the little-to-no progress on positive train control, which is technology that can help avoid train crashes.

On Friday, the state congressional delegation asked the federal government for $10 million to study and test PTC equipment.

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