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By Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw
NEW YORK (Reuters) -President Joe Biden traveled to New York City on Tuesday to tout nearly $300 million in new spending for a critical underwater tunnel that connects Manhattan and New Jersey, an effort that has been mired for more than a decade in partisan bickering and ballooning budgets.
"While others tried to shut this down, I made clear this is a national priority," Biden told a group of lawmakers and supporters gathered at a rail yard at the Hudson River tunnel, the nation's busiest rail corridor.
The New York visit is the second of three trips this week aimed at highlighting Biden's bipartisan success in securing money to invest in the nation's crumbling infrastructure at a time when congressional Republicans are threatening to block his economic agenda and shut down the government if he doesn't agree to spending cuts.
For Biden, who is expected to announce a re-election bid in the coming weeks, the trips also offer him an opportunity to fine tune an economic stump speech and upcoming State of the Union address that will boast about job creation and the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing.
"Wall Street is important but it didn't build this country. The middle class built this country and union built the middle class," Biden said.
Biden visited Baltimore on Monday to highlight the planned replacement of a 150-year-old tunnel and on Friday he will travel to Philadelphia where he will focus on replacing toxic lead pipes - both aided significantly by the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed in 2021.
On Tuesday, Biden announced that the administration has awarded nearly $1.2 billion from the law's new national infrastructure project assistance discretionary grant program for nine projects across the country, White House officials said.
He said the infrastructure bill represents the most significant investment in rail since the country created Amtrak five decades ago.
"Americans see these projects popping up across the country and it sends an important message that we're gonna work together," Biden said.
The Hudson River tunnel project, known as the Gateway Program, would repair an existing tunnel and build a new one for Amtrak and state commuter lines between New Jersey and Manhattan. The federal government, New York, and New Jersey will split the estimated price tag of $16.1 billion. Federal funding will pay for nearly half, while the two states will pick up the rest.
The tunnel slated for repairs is 112 years old and was damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Construction is slated to begin in 2024 and be completed by 2038.
The project was halted in 2010 by then-Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, who declared New Jersey could not afford its share of a $2.5 billion hike in the original $8.7 billion cost. He was criticized for using those dollars instead to firm up the state's budget.
Amtrak took it over in 2016 and it gained momentum, but was again derailed in 2018 when then-President Donald Trump's fiscal budget called for an end to the federal program that was funding the project.
“After many false starts and obstacles placed in our path, Gateway is full speed ahead," U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw; Additional Reporting by David Shepardson and Jeff Mason; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Alistair Bell)