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Biden announces $292 million for new rail tunnel under Hudson River

Biden visits major infrastructure project
Biden visits massive tunnel project in Baltimore to tout bipartisan infrastructure law 06:19

New day, new tunnel.

President Biden on Tuesday traveled to New York to showcase a $292 million grant that will be used to help build a critical new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey, part of a broader effort to draw a contrast between his economic vision and that of Republicans. The president spoke from inside the tunnel where the construction project is taking place.

"This tunnel opened for business in 1910, 113 years ago," Mr. Biden said. "And the structure is literally deteriorating. The roof is leaking, the floor is sinking. Plus, it was badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy ... The United States of America, for God's sakes, what are we doing? This is the United States of America. We know better, we're so much brighter than that. And now we're going to prove it."

Partially using funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law, the project will involved the construction of an entirely separate tunnel under the river, before the existing passage is rebuilt. The new tunnel will allow trains to run at faster speeds and no interruptions, Mr. Biden said, with trains running at up to 100 mph.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, speaking before Mr. Biden, didn't try to hide his elation. 

"Finally, finally, finally, we can say Gateway will be built," Schumer said, referring to Amtrak's planned upgrades across the New York metro area. "So hooray, hooray, hooray, here comes Gateway!" Without the rail tunnel under the Hudson River, America would "go into a recession overnight," Schumer said. 

The federal money Mr. Biden announced is part of $1.2 billion in so-called "mega" grants being awarded under the 2021 infrastructure law. The Democratic president's trip to New York City comes on the heels of his stop Monday in Baltimore to highlight the replacement of an aging rail tunnel there, where he pledged that government spending on infrastructure will boost economic growth and create blue-collar jobs. 

President Biden speaks about funding for the Hudson Tunnel Project at the West Side Rail Yard in New York on Jan. 31, 2023. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The president's two trips amount to a form of counterprogramming to the new House Republican majority. GOP lawmakers are seeking deep spending cuts in exchange for lifting the government's legal borrowing limit, saying that federal expenditures are hurting growth and that the budget should be balanced.

"For four years, the former president was shoveling you-know-what," Schumer said. "And now, we're going to put real shovels in the ground, wielded by real American workers. That's the basic contrast between this presidency and the last — empty rhetoric, versus experienced leadership. Schoolyard bullying versus building consensus. Personal grievances versus getting things done." 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Mr. Biden are scheduled to meet on Wednesday, with the Republican lawmaker intending to press his case for spending cuts even though White House officials say Biden won't negotiate over the need to increase the federal debt limit.

"I don't think there's anyone in America who doesn't agree that there's some wasteful Washington spending that we can eliminate," McCarthy told "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

To some in the Biden administration, the Hudson Tunnel Project demonstrates what could be lost if spending cuts are put into place. In total, the construction is projected to result in 72,000 jobs, according to the White House.

The project will renovate the 1910 tunnel already carrying about 200,000 weekday passengers beneath the Hudson between New Jersey and Manhattan, a long-delayed upgrade after decades in which the government underfunded infrastructure.

The grant would also be used to help complete the concrete casing for an additional rail tunnel beneath the river, preserving a right of way for the eventual tunnel. In total, the project is expected to cost $16 billion and help ease a bottleneck for New Jersey commuters and Amtrak passengers going through New York City.

Other projects to receive mega grants include the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Kentucky and Ohio; the Calcasieu River Bridge replacement in Louisiana; a commuter rail in Illinois; the Alligator River Bridge in North Carolina; a transit and highway plan in California; and roadways in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

Not everyone has been pleased by the mega grant program. Some Republican lawmakers in Arizona say it gave preference to mass transit and repair projects over expansion and new construction.

"Americans see these projects popping up across the country, and it sends an important message: When we work together like we did on the bipartisan law and the CHIPS law, there's nothing we can't do," Mr. Biden said in New York, referring to a law to boost semiconductor manufacturing. "Nothing. When the hell has America ever, ever, ever set a time that it didn't reach? When has it ever?

"Name me a time. Name me a time when America's gone through a crunch and it didn't come out stronger than when it went in," Mr. Biden continued, raising his voice. "We can get really big things done. We're sorta losing confidence in ourselves. We can do anything." 

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