BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The long-awaited Howard Street Tunnel Expansion Project is officially under way.

Shovels hit dirt here inside the station, a groundbreaking decades in the making that will dramatically increase container capacity at the Port of Baltimore.

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“This is an absolute game changer,” Gov. Larry Hogan said.

A nearly half a billion dollar tunnel expansion project is now a go.

“This is supply chain. This is big infrastructure. This is what everyone’s talking about,” said Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Greg Slater.

More than a mile and a half of railroad tunnels under Baltimore–more than 125 years old–with a vertical clearance slowing down how much cargo the port can push out.

“We have the cranes. We have the berths. And, now, we have the rail service,” Sen. Ben Cardin said.

Officials said the port has everything—except for the ability to double stack cargo containers because height restrictions on the route.

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“We’re inland and we are at a great location, but we had a bottleneck here because we couldn’t double stack and we had to get that corrected,” Cardin said

Currently, tunnels along this route from here to Philadelphia are about a foot and a half too short for double-stacked trains.

Maryland Port Administration executive director William Doyle walked us through the work, which starts with the tunnels themselves, “where you actually notch the tunnel and track lowering in order to get the clearance on the Howard Street Tunnel.”

An 11-car derailment in 2001 sparked a fuel and chemical fire lasting hours inside the tunnel.

Twenty years later, officials break ground and point to the environmental benefits of moving goods by rail than by road.

“Door to door,” said Slater. “It’s not just about bringing them in. It’s about getting them out to the people who need them.”

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The project is estimated to cost $466 million and set for completion in early 2025.

Paul Gessler