President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that nearly $300 million in federal money will be made available to help build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and repair an existing, 113-year-old tunnel damaged during Superstorm Sandy.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone; President Joe Biden Facebook page

Nearly $300 million in federal money will help build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and repair an existing, 113-year-old tunnel damaged during Superstorm Sandy, connecting Manhattan to New Jersey, President Joe Biden said Tuesday.

Speaking at the West Side's rail yard in Manhattan, Biden said the grant for the long-stalled project — killed in an earlier iteration by then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and stymied by then-President Donald Trump — would herald a new day for American transportation.

"It's about damn time," Biden said, speaking near a Long Island Rail Road train festooned with the presidential seal and "USA 46," referring to Biden being the 46th president.

Part of the Gateway railway expansion project, the Hudson tunnel work is expected to cost more than $16 billion, and what Biden promoted on Tuesday provides only a fraction of the cost. But the cash helps jump-start a project that has long been stalled and whose failure to be done potentially put the region in jeopardy: if the existing tunnel were to fail, the entire region's economy could be sent into paralysis, with implications for the entire nation. That tunnel is the only passenger rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey.

"After many false starts, and obstacles placed in our way, Gateway is full speed ahead," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said.

Biden was in New York to tout his infrastructure package, which totals $1 trillion and funds projects across the country. 

"This is just the beginning, just the beginning, of finally constructing a 21st century rail system that's long, long overdue in this country. But it's gonna take time. It's a multibillion dollar effort between the states and the federal government.."

New York and New Jersey have pledged each 25% for the rest of the tunnel cost, although further federal grants could reduce the local cost.

"This funding … will complete the final section of concrete casing intended to preserve future right-of-way for the new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River. The concrete casing protects the path of the new tunnel from Penn Station to the Hudson River’s edge. If this casing were not built now, the foundations from the new Hudson Yards development would likely impede the path of the tunnel and make the project extremely difficult," a White House release said.

According to the release, the project will create 72,000 “good-paying jobs.” And while the Hudson tunnel project primarily benefits the 200,000 weekday passengers who ride Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, Gateway is believed to mean residual benefits for LIRR passengers, since both Amtrak and NJ Transit share Penn Station.

For now, the tunnel under the Hudson has reached its full capacity — 24 trains per hour, “causing bottlenecks and delays.”

“The tunnel has two tubes with one track each. When one goes out of service for any reason, trains have to wait to go through the working tube. This creates headaches for NJ Transit commuters and Amtrak travelers and delays that cascade up and down the Northeast Corridor,” the release said.

According to the release, passengers experienced 12,653 minutes of delay because of the aging tunnel, which in 2012 was badly damaged by Sandy when millions of gallons of salt water flooded in. The damage continues to imperil the signaling, electrical components, concrete, steel, tracks and third rail.

"In 2020, there were over 12,000 minutes in delay in just one year — 12,000 minutes of delay. The United States of America. What — for God’s sake, 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," Biden said.

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