President Joe Biden will take a victory lap Tuesday as officials prepare to begin work on a massive rail plan hard-pressed New York City commuters have waited years for: the Gateway tunnel project.
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 between New York and New Jersey and rehabilitate existing Amtrak and New Jersey Transit 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, with 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.
Biden in New York City on Tuesday will announce $292 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law to complete a critical early phase of the project, according to the White House. The tunnel project will result in 72,000 jobs, and improve rail reliability for an estimated 200,000 commuters on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, according to a White House official.
At the event at the West Side Rail Yard, Biden will also announce that the administration has awarded nearly $1.2 billion from the infrastructure law’s discretionary grant program for projects across the country. He will be joined by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and other officials.
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 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.
Before the pandemic, about 820,000 rail passengers a day traveled to New York City or some other destination in the Northeast.
The two-track tunnel is safe, according to Amtrak, but its decaying electrical and other components, damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, are increasingly unreliable.
The completed tunnel is anticipated to be in service by 2035, according to the commission.
Half the cost was expected to be covered by the federal government, and the rest by New York and New Jersey, with contributions from Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The commission is seeking additional funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
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.
The president and Vice President Harris will travel to Philadelphia on Friday to discuss how infrastructure funding will help 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.
At the Baltimore event, Biden said the improvements would ease travel for commuters up and down the East Coast.
“This law is the most significant investment American roads, bridges since the interstate highway system, and it’s the single most significant investment in rail in America since Amtrak,” Biden said Monday in Baltimore.
And the president touted his affection for Amtrak, saying he had logged over a million miles traveling on the passenger rail system as a senator and later as vice president in the Obama administration.
“This is just the beginning of having a 21st century rail system that’s been so long overdue in this country,” Biden added.