Greeted by the joyous blast of a train whistle, US President Joe Biden on Monday visited a dilapidated railway tunnel that he has passed an estimated 1,000 times through, and which he has feared for decades would collapse.
“For years, people have talked about fixing this tunnel,” Biden told a crowd in Baltimore. “In the 1980s, I actually walked through the tunnel accompanied by some of the workers… This is a 150-year-old tunnel. One wonders how the hell he's still standing."
“However, with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we are finally going to fix it,” Biden said.
The president has stepped into familiar territory to advance his 2021 infrastructure bill, a bipartisan victory that is increasing spending for big projects.
Biden said replacing the Potomac-Baltimore tunnel could cut the current 60-minute commute between Baltimore and Washington in half, giving commuters more time to spend with family and friends.
As a senator, the president used to use the Amtrak trains that passed through this tunnel to travel to his home in Delaware. He rode “15 percent of the time with the engineers,” he said, and had a key to get into the back of the trains.
The new tunnel will create 20,000 construction jobs and reduce traffic and pollution, the president said, "jobs for people you used to think about when you took the train home at night."
Opened in 1873 when Ulysses S. Grant was president, the tunnel first connected Philadelphia and Washington by rail. But over time, it became more of a problem than a solution. There is only one entrance, and trains have to slow to 30 mph (48 kilometers per hour) to navigate a sharp curve at the southern end.
In ten years
When completed, in about a decade, the new tunnel will have two entrances, and up to four tracks in total, and will allow trains to travel at more than 100 mph (160 km/h). It will be named after Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery in Maryland and became a leading abolitionist. The total project, which includes related bridges and equipment upgrades, could cost $6 billion.
Biden also announced labor agreements aimed at facilitating the completion of the tunnel and guaranteeing good wages for union workers, according to the White House. Maryland has also agreed to allocate $450 million for construction.
No federal infrastructure initiative funding has yet been awarded. However, the bill Biden signed includes $24 billion for rail improvements along the Northeast Corridor, and as much as $4.7 billion could be earmarked for the Baltimore tunnel, covering most of its cost.