By Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt
WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday celebrated the planned replacement of a 150-year-old tunnel in Baltimore, burnishing his “builder-in-chief” credentials on friendly political territory, a sharp contrast to Washington’s partisan debt battle.
Biden’s administration will invest $4 billion to replace the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, part of the $1 trillion infrastructure law that passed Congress with bipartisan support and stands as one of the president’s biggest legislative victories.
“Having a 21st century rail system, that’s been long overdue in this country,” Biden said.
The U.S. Civil War-era tunnel is a major chokepoint for commuter and long-distance rail traffic on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which connects Washington, New York and Boston. Biden noted that 2,200 trains ride through it daily, making it the busiest tunnel in the United States.
“Folks talk about how badly the Baltimore tunnel needs an upgrade. You don’t need me to tell you, I have been there and you have been there too,” Biden said, citing his years of riding Amtrak as a senator.
Trains that travel through the tunnel now at 30 miles per hour will travel at 110 mph when renovations are through, Biden said.
The new tunnel, named for Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, is expected to cost $5 billion and be completed by 2032. Amtrak will rely on union labor, Biden noted.
“I know we can forge a path of building an economy where no one’s left behind,” Biden said. “That’s what this project is all about … it is about making things here in America again. It’s about good jobs.”
CONTRAST WITH REPUBLICANS
Biden, who is contemplating a 2024 re-election campaign, is eager to tout his bona fides as a bipartisan dealmaker who can ramp up infrastructure projects to reduce traffic congestion, improve safety, ease climate change, boost economic growth, halt inflation and create high-paying union jobs for people without college degrees.
In Washington, Biden faces a colder reality as Republicans, now in control of the House of Representatives, threaten to block his economic agenda, bog down his programs in investigations and prevent the raising of the debt ceiling to force spending cuts.
Biden is set for a face-to-face meeting on Wednesday with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for talks in the debt standoff, which threatens to hurtle the United States into an unprecedented default.
Biden plans a similar event on Tuesday in New York related to that city’s Hudson Tunnel project. On Friday, he will highlight the infrastructure bill’s provisions replacing toxic lead pipes at an event in Philadelphia.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt;Writing by Nandita BoseEditing by Gerry Doyle and Alistair Bell)