By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s known as the “Baltimore Bottleneck”–a curving 141-year-old tunnel beneath West Baltimore that carries tens of thousands of passengers every day. Right now, plans to replace it are taking a new step forward.

Mike Hellgren explains why this is so critical for the entire Northeast corridor.

From Sky Eye Chopper 13, you can see the B&P Tunnel. It cuts a path near hundreds of homes through Bolton Hill and other West Baltimore neighborhoods.

The tunnel carries 57 MARC trains and 85 Amtrak trains every day along with freight to the Port of Baltimore. It’s critical, and it’s out-of-date.

“It’s a key bottleneck, actually, quite frankly,” said Craig Schulz, Amtrak. “It effectively chokes traffic here in the Baltimore area.”

It was 1873. The Preakness Stakes ran for the first time. Central Park in New York was just completed. Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House and the B&P Tunnel first opened for business.

And it’s only now that a serious study is underway on how to replace it. The final price tag could run past $1 billion.

The engineering study costs $60 million. It won’t be complete for another three years.

“Maryland can’t do it on our own. We need the federal government’s support,” said Chuck Brown, Maryland Department of Transportation.

A derailment last year delayed trains throughout the Northeast.

“If you take care of it now and fix the problem before something really drastic happens,” said Marilyn Humber, Amtrak passenger.

“Let it ride, improve education, do something else with the money,” Amtrak passenger Bill Boggs said.

It’s not Baltimore’s only aging tunnel. CSX’s Howard Street tunnel also needs replacement, showing its vulnerabilities after an underground fire in 2001.

“If there’s ever a real breakdown, an explosion or terrorists, we have real trouble in this country,” said Helen Bentley, former representative.

But it all comes down to money. And for the B&P tunnel, there’s no funding yet for replacement.

“When the Northeast corridor slows down, it affects a large number of people up and down the corridor between Washington, Philadelphia, New York, up to Boston,” said Schulz.

There will be a public forum next Thursday, June 19 at Coppin State University.

For more information on the project and upcoming meetings, click here.

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