President Joe Biden heralded work on the Gateway tunnel project, a massive rail infrastructure initiative he said would improve travel for workers heading across the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.

“That’s how important this project is for up to 200,000 passengers who take Amtrak or New Jersey Transit under the Hudson River every single day,” said Biden on Tuesday at the West Side Rail Yard in New York City.

“This is the busiest corridor in the United States of America,” he added. “It matters a lot — the Northeast corridor from here to Boston, Boston to Washington, all the way down.”

The tunnel is one of a number of efforts to revamp the nation’s roads, rail and bridges that Biden has been touting around the country. But how well the administration delivers on getting the project off the ground will go far in determining the nation’s most prominent train lover’s political legacy on infrastructure.

Biden has long touted his affection for passenger rail, especially Amtrak, and his infrastructure chief, Mitch Landrieu, has showcased the effort to construct a new Hudson River tunnel and rehabilitate existing track lines as a “cathedral project” for the administration. 

The endeavor will be critical to easing congestion at a critical choke point on the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s busiest route, spanning Boston to Washington, traversed by more than 2,200 trains a day. But the project, which New York and New Jersey commuters say cannot be completed soon enough has already faced cost increases and delays.

The cost of the project has climbed to $16.1 billion, the Gateway Development Commission said in August — an estimate that is 14% higher than the 2021 projection. The start of major construction, once proposed for mid-2023, now is expected in mid-2024. 

The administration is providing $292 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law to complete a critical early phase of the project, according to the White House, which said the tunnel project will result in 72,000 jobs. The administration has awarded nearly $1.2 billion from the infrastructure law’s discretionary grant program for projects across the country, the White House said.

Biden was joined Tuesday by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and the US senators from both states, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

“For years people talked about fixing this tunnel, but thanks to leadership with Chuck and the bipartisan infrastructure law, we’re finally getting this done,” said Biden, praising a key congressional ally. 

The New York City area is also a donor rich region for Biden and Democrats. Later on Tuesday, the president is slated to join a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York.

Advocates of the project warn that failing to complete it could bring economic harm to a region that contributes 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to the Gateway Development Commission. 

The completed tunnel is anticipated to be in service by 2035, according to the commission.

Infrastructure Blitz

Biden in recent weeks has promoted projects backed by the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021, highlighting funding for a bridge that runs between Kentucky and Ohio, and on Monday helping kick off a project to replace a 150-year old Baltimore rail tunnel.

He’s widely expected to announce a 2024 re-election bid. The events allow him to travel outside of Washington and tout his major legislative accomplishments, similar to campaigning.  In Baltimore on Monday, Biden spoke from a podium in which he was centered between the American flag and an Amtrak train that blared its horn as he concluded his remarks. 

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Philadelphia on Friday to discuss funding to remove lead pipes and ensure clean water.

The White House is redirecting its efforts to implementing legislation passed during Biden’s first two years as the prospect of additional bipartisan legislative victories dries up with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives.

Biden on Tuesday touted his affection for Amtrak, saying he had logged over a million miles traveling on the passenger rail system. 

“This law is the most significant investment in rail since we created Amtrak,” he said.