WASHINGTON — For more than a decade, commuters have watched as state and federal officials promised and failed to revamp the century-old rail tunnel connecting New Jersey to Midtown Manhattan, which has become a symbol of America’s aging infrastructure.
During a trip to New York City on Tuesday, President Biden will promote his $1 trillion infrastructure package as the solution.
Eight years after the Obama administration declared the project, known as Gateway, one of the most important public work programs in the nation, Mr. Biden will formally announce that his administration is contributing $292 million in grants from his signature infrastructure law.
The money will go toward the extension of a concrete casing for the tunnels on the West Side of Manhattan, between Pennsylvania Station and the Hudson River. That work would be a prelude to the digging of the 2.4-mile-long tunnels under the Hudson, which is expected to take three years and cost more than $16 billion.
Mr. Biden’s visit to New York City comes as Republicans, now in control of the House, have accused him of supporting reckless spending that fueled inflation — a major political vulnerability for the White House that dwindled his approval numbers last year.
But in recent days, Mr. Biden has been on an underground tour to make the case that his economic plans are not just a price tag but a way to improve the lives of the working class. On Monday, he was in Baltimore highlighting an investment of more than $4 billion to improve an aging rail tunnel there. Later this week, he will hold an event in Philadelphia to discuss lead pipe removal.
The Gateway project suffered years of delays under the administration of President Donald J. Trump, who reneged on an arrangement for the federal government to cover half of the estimated cost.
His administration downgraded the project’s importance and delayed granting permits the project needed to advance. In the meantime, the estimates of how much it will cost to build Gateway have risen, driven in part by the high rate of inflation. When Mr. Trump left office, the projected cost of the tunnel was $11.6 billion. Now it is $16.1 billion, and the digging has not begun. Last year, the schedule for completing the tunnel was extended by three years to 2035.
The existing tunnels were flooded with brackish water when Hurricane Sandy struck the region in 2012. Amtrak has conducted piecemeal repairs on the tunnels but has warned that they eventually would have to be closed for comprehensive rehabilitation. Amtrak officials said Penn Station would require expansion to accommodate the additional capacity in the Hudson corridor.
Jim Mathews, chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association, said it was vital that the project moved forward. But he sees more obstacles ahead, citing a lack of expertise in managing projects like this on both the state and federal levels. The lack of such support, he says, can cause projects to get delayed and their costs skyrocket.
“You may not have the expertise to exercise the oversight you need,” he said.
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