Bruce W. Gartner

Bruce W. Gartner (Handout photo / June 5, 2013)

Bruce Gartner served as acting executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority for seven months before being named permanently to the position last month.

That was probably a good thing because the Annapolis resident needs to hit the ground running.

The independent state agency, which owns and operates all of the state's toll roads, bridges and tunnels, is in the midst of a six-year, multibillion-dollar capital program and is gearing up to introduce major changes to the state's highway system, including new express toll lanes on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore.

The authority also is installing new video tolling technologies, conducting a "Life Cycle Study" of the Bay Bridge's current and future needs and starting $60 million in design work and right-of-way acquisition for the replacement of the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Southern Maryland.

Meanwhile, it's preparing for major rehabilitation work along I-95 south of the Fort McHenry Tunnel and at the Canton Viaduct along I-895 north of the Harbor Tunnel.

The Baltimore Sun caught up with Gartner to ask him about his job.

What are your top priorities for the MdTA as you take on your new role?

Safety, system preservation and customer service. … The MdTA has several high-profile system-preservation projects in the works. The staff and I are focused on delivering those projects on time and within budget. When these projects impact traffic, we are committed to minimizing those impacts and to communicating with the public so they can make informed choices about their travel.

Perhaps our biggest customer service opportunities and challenges in the next few years are related to technology. As we roll out the new video toll payment process and the toll citation program for toll violators, we need to work closely with our vendors, local courts and other states to ensure that we are effectively transitioning to the new system while creating a payment and enforcement mechanism that is fair to all of our customers.

I also want to ensure that our efforts to introduce all-electronic tolling at the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge (U.S. 40) in Perryville and at the Francis Scott Key Bridge (I-695) in Baltimore are seen as opportunities to improve the safety and efficiency of our facilities.

How has the influx of state funding for transportation projects changed planning efforts for the MdTA and/or reshaped your vision for what's possible in the next several years?

First, I want to clarify that none of the revenue from the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act that was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year will go to the MdTA. Our funding is limited to the tolls collected at our eight toll facilities. With enactment of the new toll rates that took effect on July 1, the MdTA has been able to continue paying down the debt that allowed for recently completed projects and supports a $2.27 billion six-year capital program.

The most important result of the influx of new funding both to the MdTA and to [the Department of Transportation] is that all areas of the state will see projects advancing. That means improved roadways, more transportation options and the assurance that we are maintaining the high-profile transportation facilities that we inherited from previous generations.

Why is the replacement of the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge such a priority?

The Nice Bridge opened in 1940, and today is functionally obsolete — meaning the bridge is safe but does not meet current transportation needs. The U.S. 301 roadway on either side of the bridge has four lanes (two in each direction), while the bridge itself carries only one lane in each direction. It has no barrier to separate opposing traffic, no shoulders and no accommodation for bicycles or pedestrians. In addition, the bridge's steep grade is less than ideal for the nearly 7 million vehicles that cross it each year.

Based on a recent life-cycle cost analysis, we know there will be a time in the not too distant future where we would need to invest in major rehabilitation of the bridge deck – requiring bridge closures that would have a significant impact on traffic and quality of life in the region.

You are going to set toll rates for the new express toll lanes on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore soon. What did you learn during the public comment period, and how will it affect your decision?

Not surprisingly, we learned that some people would prefer not to pay tolls. On a serious note, the public hearings and comment period from Sept. 19 to Nov. 4 produced relatively few comments and recommended changes to the toll-rate ranges and time periods proposed for peak, off-peak and overnight toll rates for the seven-mile facility. We had a total of three people testify at the three hearings and less than 75 total comments submitted to us. As a result, our staff recommendation to the MdTA board is to approve the plan as proposed on Sept. 19. We expect the board to make a decision at its next meeting on Dec. 19.

What does a perfect weekend at home in Annapolis look like for you?

Since I enjoy a lot of different outdoor activities and still have twin teenage boys at home, a perfect weekend would involve an early-morning outing on either my bike or stand-up paddle board, watching the boys play soccer, having one of them mow the lawn and getting together with friends/neighbors at home or at one of the restaurants in town. During the fall and winter months, making chili and watching the "NFL Red Zone" is often a part of the routine.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Bruce W. Gartner

Title: Executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority

Age: 48

Education: B.A. in political science and a master's degree in public policy analysis, both from the University of Rochester

Residence: Annapolis

Hometown: Moon Township, Pa.

Family: Three sons: Owen (college sophomore), Emmett and Eli (high school sophomores)

Interests: Music, cycling, kayaking/stand-up paddle boarding and hiking (or skiing if I could find the time between January and March)