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Biden highlights infrastructure bill at Port of Baltimore

President Joe Biden speaks at the Port of Baltimore on Wednesday.
Emily Sullivan/WYPR
President Joe Biden speaks at the Port of Baltimore on Wednesday.

President Biden touted his trillion dollar infrastructure bill Wednesday and called on Congress to pass his Build Back Better package during remarks at the Port of Baltimore, which he held as a blueprint for other U.S. ports struggling with congestion.

“This is a once in a generation investment to create good paying jobs, modernize infrastructure, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity,” he said at the Dundalk Marine Terminal, less than a week after Congress passed the bill.

The Port of Baltimore is the nation’s 12th biggest container port and processes about 2% of container imports. The port has not yet rebounded to pre-pandemic levels of shipping activity, but it has avoided the congestion holding up many cargo ships from unloading at U.S. ports, particularly ports on the West Coast that process far more containers.

Four new, 450-foot cranes arrived at the port in September. The fully electric cranes will double the Port of Baltimore’s container capacity — after the Howard Street Tunnel is redone.

A public private partnership will revamp the tunnel, which runs 1.4 miles under Howard Street downtown and is used by CSX, to allow it to accommodate double-stacked containers traveling to and from the port. The federal government, the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania and CSX will contribute to the $466 million project. About $125 million will come from the feds.

The project received a stamp of approval from environmental inspectors in June; construction is due to begin this year. Biden praised the public-private partnership behind the planned expansion.

“Freight trains become double stacked through that tunnel,” he said. “That means, in addition to more good jobs being filled, more products on shelves, delivered faster and at lower prices. .. In the longer term, it means building greater resilience to withstand both shocks and disruptions.”

Democratic members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation, as well as Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, spoke ahead of the president and praised the influx of money the infrastructure bill would bring the state and city.

“Promises were made and most importantly, promises were kept,” Scott said.

Gov. Larry Hogan was the only Republican official to speak at the port.

“This landmark bipartisan legislation will help us grow jobs, expand economic opportunity and enhance security. I was proud to support this,” he said.

Biden plans to sign the bill into law on Monday.

His visit to Baltimore was his second as president. His first was just three weeks ago for a CNN town hall, in which he discussed the cuts the originally $3 trillion bill endured to gain the approval of moderate Democrats.

Biden used his time in Baltimore to push for another hallmark bill: the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better package, a social services package that aims to expand health care and paid family leave, as well as fund universal prekindergarten and efforts to combat climate change.

“We risk losing our edge if we don't step up,” Biden said.

Scott echoed the president’s calls on Congress.

“This comprehensive agenda has the potential to lower barriers for low income families and build an economy that truly works for all Americans,” he said. “It is clear that we still have hard work to do to make America the best version of itself.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.