Jan. 30 (UPI) — President Joe Biden visited Maryland for the launch of a project that will help ease one of the largest rail bottlenecks in the northeast corridor.
On Monday afternoon, Biden delivered remarks from the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, highlighting federal funding for the project from his administration’s infrastructure bill.
Of the $1.2 trillion in funding provided by the infrastructure bill, $24 billion is dedicated specifically to funding major backlog projects along the northeast rail corridor, and Monday’s announcement comes from that pool. The federal government is releasing $7.2 billion annually over the next five years for infrastructure upgrade projects.
“This is just the beginning of having a 21st century rail system that’s been so long overdue in this country,” Biden said.
“This law is the most significant investment in American roads and bridges since the Interstate Highway System,” Biden said. “And it’s the single most significant investment in rail in America since Amtrak was created 50 years ago.”
Replacing the 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel on the busy northeast rail corridor could net up to $4.7 billion in federal funding, generating 30,000 jobs in the process, the White House said Monday.
Biden said he rode Amtrak to Washington as a Senator, riding for more than 1 million miles.
“I know how much it matters to the entire northeast corridor from here to Boston,” he said. “For years people talked about fixing this tunnel. You wonder how in the hell it is still standing. With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, we’re finally going to get it done.”
The state of Maryland is contributing $450 million as part of the overall tunnel replacement project.
The 1.4-mile tunnel is the oldest along what is already the busiest stretch of railroad in the country, connecting Penn Station in Baltimore southward. Nine million Amtrak and Maryland Area Commuter passengers pass through the tunnel each year. It is the worst bottleneck along the corridor between New Jersey and Washington D.C.
The tunnel is traversed by more than 2,000 trains everyday, making it one of the busiest corridors in the world.
“If this line shuts down for just one day it would cost this country $100 million,” Biden said. “The structure is deteriorating. The roof is leaking. The floor is sinking. We know we have to prove we’re much better than that.”
The tunnel’s age and design require trains to slow to a cautionary 30 miles per hour when traveling through its tight curve. Delays occur on 99% of weekdays on an annual basis and more than 10% of trains each weekday are delayed, the White House said. Estimates believe a replacement tunnel could reduce delays by a total of 450,000 commuting hours on an annual basis, the White House said Monday.
When the tunnel project is complete, trains will travel through the tunnel at 110 mph, making the commute from Baltimore to Washington in 30 minutes.
The tunnel’s last major renovation was around 40 years ago and it has reached the end of its life expectancy.
The replacement will be named after Frederick Douglas, a Maryland native and abolitionist. Its two separate tubes, new signal system and gentler curvature will allow trains to pass through more quickly and undelayed. The project will also see five road and rail bridges in the immediate area that feed the tunnel, rebuilt.
Of the 30,000 jobs the project is expected to create, 20,000 of those will be related to its construction. The tunnel will be built by union workers under a project labor agreement.
“This is going to be a game changer for the environment, as well,” Biden said, forecasting that commuters will take the rail rather than driving on the interstate if it makes for a faster trip.
Biden has been making the rounds as his federally-funded large infrastructure projects begin to get shovels in the ground. He is scheduled to be in New York on Tuesday to discuss the Hudson tunnel project.
Earlier this month, he joined Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to announce $1.6 billion in federal funding to replace the 60-year-old Brent Spence Bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky.