President Joe Biden visited Baltimore on Monday to kick off a project to replace the 150-year old Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel with the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel.
The $6 billion project, which is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, aims to address the rail congestion between Washington, D.C. and New Jersey, as well as generate thousands of jobs, lower commuting times, and increase safety.
One aspect of the infrastructure law, which was passed in 2021, is to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and rails. According to White House officials, this project makes the largest investment in a passenger rail since Amtrak was created.
The 1.4-mile B&P tunnel is the oldest tunnel on the Northeast corridor. It’s also the largest bottleneck for commuters between Washington D.C. and New Jersey.
The tunnel’s tight turns and sharp incline requires trains to reduce speeds to 30 miles per hour which creates long delays. According to train officials, more than 10% of weekday trains are delayed, and delays occur on 99% of weekdays.
There are no alternate routes if the tunnel were to close, so the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program will build a new tunnel with “softer curves; ventilation and emergency egress facilities; new signaling systems, new overhead catenary, a new track; five new roadway and railroad bridges; and a new West Baltimore MARC station.”
When the program is complete, the size of the tunnel is expected to triple with a total of four tracks, and trains will be able to go up to 110 miles per hour versus the current 30 miles per hour.
The new tunnel will be named in honor of the abolitionist and Maryland native, Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery by taking a train in Baltimore.
$44 million through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was received for preliminary engineering and permitting. But the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law fund helped serve as a funding source for construction, which could be a contribution of up to $4.7 billion.
The program is expected to generate 30,000 jobs, including 20,000 construction jobs that do not require a college degree. An agreement has been signed between Amtrak and the Baltimore-DC Building and Construction Trades Council to ensure the project creates good-paying, union jobs.
Additionally, Amtrak is investing more than $50 million in workforce development, including pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs to ensure that local residents of West Baltimore have access to these positions when they become available.
“We can forge a path of building an economy where no one is left behind. That’s what this project and others like it across the country are all about,” Biden said. “It’s about making investments in American cities, towns, heartlands, rural America. It’s about good jobs, it’s about the dignity of work, it’s about respect and self-worth. And it’s about damn time we’re doing it.”
But not everyone is on board with the project.
A local community group, Residents Against The Tunnels (RATT), gathered Monday to protest the tunnel plans.
The group organized a public demonstration and a rally with other residents and business owners who believe the project will damage and threaten homes in the West Baltimore communities that are 100 years old. The organization suggests that officials did not thoroughly consider repurposing the existing tunnel as an option.
Demolition, utility relocations, and select track work is expected to begin as soon as this year.