President Joe Biden came to the West Side of Manhattan on Jan. 31 to showcase a $292 million grant that will be used to help build two new rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.
The money is part of $1.2 billion in mega grants being awarded under the 2021 $1 trillion infrastructure law. The Democratic president’s trip to New York City came on the heels of his stop Monday in Baltimore to highlight the replacement of an aging rail tunnel there.
The New York stop also gave Biden a chance to highlight his administration jumpstarting a project that languished during President Donald Trump’s time in office. The years long modernization of the Hudson project started in 2013 but stalled as Trump battled with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer over funding for the project.
“This is one of the biggest, the most consequential projects in the country,” Biden said. “But we finally have the money, and we’re going to get it done. I promise we’re going to get it done.”
The New York and Baltimore 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.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Biden met on Feb. 1 the first meeting since the California Republican was voted Speaker. The Republican lawmaker after the meeting told reporters, “I think at the end of the day, we can find common ground.” But he also added that there were “no promises” made during the hour long meeting.
``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 CBS News.
Mitch Landrieu, a White House senior adviser responsible for coordinating implementation of the infrastructure law, told reporters on Jan. 31 that if Republicans are looking to “take away money from projects, they ought to, I think, identify which projects they don’t want.’’
`”And then you can have that discussion with the American people,’’ Landrieu added.
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 two tunnels opened in 1910 are already carrying about 200,000 weekday passengers beneath the Hudson between New Jersey and Manhattan.
The grant would 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 just over $16 billion, according to current estimates, and help ease a bottleneck for New Jersey commuters and Amtrak passengers going through New York City.
Biden made the case the project is critical far beyond greater New York.
`”If this line shuts down for just one day it would cost our economy $100 million,`” Biden said.
And obviously some on the other side of the political divide are not 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.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., noted that the northeast corridor produces roughly 20% of the U.S. GDP and that Biden was finally ushering in long-awaited modernization to an essential artery that moves countless people and goods through the heart of the U.S. economy.
NY Senator Chuck Schumer criticized Trump for slowing the project during his term as he feuded with Democrats.
“Get on the Joe Biden Express now because we are not stopping,’’ Schumer said. “For four years, the former president was shoveling you know what and now we’re going to put real shovels in the ground, wielded by real American workers.’’
In an interview later, Schumer said he and Biden were both “giddy’’ over the rail tunnel project, adding that it was all they talked about in the presidential limousine as they rode to the site of the press conference. Schumer said they were giving each other ``high-fives’’ throughout the day.
Separately, transportation advocate Larry Penner, a former official with the Federal Transit Administration in the New York region told Straus News, “President Biden’s announcement of a $295 million federal grant toward a $600 million dollar cost for construction of a concrete casing for a box tunnel under the Hudson Yards doesn’t tell the whole story.”
“All this does is preserves future access to Penn Station from the proposed two new tunnels to be built as part of the $33.4 Billion Gateway Tunnel. It represents a fraction of the overall project scope and budget,” he said.
Penner points out that the cost has already nearly doubled from the original 2015 estimae of $8.7 billion. “The total estimated cost for 100% of the proposed Gateway Tunnel project scope of work is $33.4 billion,” according to Penner.
For Schumer, the stakes of the Hudson River rail project were serious, given the risk of the 1910 tunnel failing without an alternative in place.“There would be no doubt we would have a recession in the Northeast, if not the whole country,’’ he warned. And he said, “Finally, finally, finally, the project is resuming.”
The project will renovate an aging tunnel built in 1910 that today carries about 200,000 weekday passengers beneath the Hudson between New Jersey and Manhattan.