By Kevin Rector and Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun
11:00 AM EDT, September 4, 2013
Gov. Martin O'Malley plans to announce $1.5 billion in new state funding for the Baltimore Red Line and more than a dozen other transportation projects in the area Wednesday, officials said, outlining for the first time how the state's gas tax increase will be tapped to improve local infrastructure and mass transit here.
O'Malley also plans to discuss the state's interest in attracting public-private partnerships to help fund the Red Line project, and a Dec. 7 start date for weekend MARC train service between Baltimore and Washington, which has never been offered before.
In a statement, O'Malley described the transportation spending as "making the modern investments a modern economy requires" to educate, innovate and rebuild the state.
The state Department of Transportation said the funding, which O'Malley is scheduled to announce alongside Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials at the West Baltimore MARC station Wednesday afternoon, would create about 13,000 jobs and ease congestion as busy arteries are widened or improved and mass transit systems are prioritized.
Rawlings-Blake said the new funding "says that the state is serious about being a partner with Baltimore" to improve connections between transportation options.
"They're putting their money where their mouth is," she said. "They're recognizing that for the state to be strong, Baltimore has to be strong, and it has to be strong as a connected city."
The gas tax, approved earlier this year by the Maryland General Assembly, is expected to dramatically change the environment for transportation construction in the state, reversing a trend of diminished ability — and ambition — when it comes to the state's taking on major projects.
The Democratic legislature approved the higher gas tax and new fees — expected to provide $4.4 billion for transportation projects over six years — over the objections of Republicans who viewed the hikes as too steep for consumers.
Transportation Secretary James Smith said the new transportation funding makes clear the benefits of the gas tax.
"What's happening is people are actually seeing what they're getting for this money. There is a direct correlation between the projects that are being announced and the money that is being raised," he said. "And I do think people have a kinder attitude when they don't think the money is going down a black hole."
Sen. James "Ed" DeGrange, who chairs the Senate transportation budget subcommittee, agreed.
"That's what we all wanted to see when they were proposing the increase in the tax: 'What are we going to get for those dollars?'" the Anne Arundel County Democrat said. "And I guess this is the effect of it. A lot of those projects are coming off the back burner."
In all, 17 projects are to be announced for the city and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.
Plans include $20 million for streetscape improvements in downtown Hampstead in Carroll; $43 million to improve intersections along access routes to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford; $29 million to rebuild the interchange between Route 175 and Route 295 at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel; $48 million to widen Route 29 in Howard; and $86 million to widen Interstate 695 between Route 40 and Route 144 in Baltimore County.
Another $246 million is to be spent on replacing the Baltimore Metro's fleet of 100 railcars and 15 miles of signaling systems, and $12 million is to go toward the operating costs of the Charm City Circulator.
More than a third of the new funding — $519 million — is to be spent on construction on the Baltimore Red Line, a $2.6 billion, 14.1-mile light rail project to cut through the heart of downtown Baltimore, connecting Woodlawn in the west with Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center to the east. In May, officials announced $170 million for the project's right-of-way acquisition and final design.
The state is to begin considering proposals from private industry for certain aspects of the project, including track and signal operations and maintenance of some facilities and assets, such as railcars.
Officials said they do not plan to seek public-private partnerships to pay for the Red Line's major infrastructure, such as tunnels, underground stations and stormwater management systems.
Hundreds of contractors have expressed interest in bidding on the project in recent months. The Federal Transit Administration, which is expected to foot part of the transit project bill under its New Starts program, encourages public-private partnerships.
The state has said it plans to use a public-private partnership to build the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.
Smith said the level of public-private partnership for the Red Line has not been determined, but it will be a much smaller percentage of the project than the Purple Line because the underground system planned for Baltimore is more complex.
"Tunnel boring isn't something that generally works with a developer," he said.
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said the interest shown by hundreds of companies at a forum on Red Line public-private partnerships suggests private industry is clamoring for a way to benefit from the project.
"In cities where there have been new transit locations," Fry said, "that's where a significant amount of development occurred."
Companies have already applied to help build the Purple Line in Montgomery County.
"If you look at the industry landscape across the country, it's no secret that our infrastructure is in crisis," said Jessica Murray, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria, Va., construction firm Skanska. "The reality is, if you don't have a private company come in and build it, it's probably not going to get done."
Murray said projects such as the Purple and Red lines give infrastructure companies with access to capital, such as Skanska, profitable deals with a promised revenue stream, and allows governments to build infrastructure it couldn't otherwise afford.
"It's a way for it to work for everybody," she said. "We can come in and design and build the best operating system possible. We can bring in maintenance and facilities people that will make sure everything is operating at top shape."
DeGrange, the transportation budget subcommittee chairman, said public-private partnerships can allow a state to build necessary infrastructure and spread the cost — but should be undertaken cautiously.
"The devil is in the details, always, to see exactly what the total cost is going to be over the entire contract, and what the benefits are going to be," he said. "You have to be careful how you are mortgaging the future."
Nearly $100 million in new funding will allow the Maryland Transit Administration to expand MARC train service to include nine round trips Baltimore and Washington on the Penn Line on Saturday and six on Sunday, to buy two new locomotives and to offer two additional daily weekday round trips on the Camden Line.
Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat and chair of the House transportation subcommittee, said the Dec. 7 start to weekend service would provide opportunities for people to travel between Baltimore and Washington and spend money, especially during the holidays.
"I'm very ecstatic about that," he said. "It will be great for people to be able to use it on the weekend, for people who want to go downtown to do Christmas shopping, downtown to see all the different Christmas lights, all the different functions, all the different shows."
A previous version of this article incorrectly described the interchange at Fort Meade to be rebuilt with $29 million. The Sun regrets the error.
New transportation projects in the Baltimore region
$519 to initiate construction of the Red Line ($170 million for right way and final design was announced in May).
$246 million to replace Baltimore Metro's fleet of 100 railcars and 15 miles of signaling systems.
$86 million in construction funds to widen the outer loop of Interstate 695 between Route 40 and Route 144 in Baltimore County.
$75 million in construction funds to build a new Kirk Bus Division transportation and storage building in Baltimore City.
$60 million in construction funds to improve traffic flow on Interstate 695 at Leeds Avenue and replace two bridges in the same area in Baltimore County.
$52 million for MARC Commuter Rail improvements to purchase 10 new diesel locomotives and add 2 weekday round trips on the Camden Line.County.
$52 million for MARC Commuter Rail improvements to purchase 10 new diesel locomotives and add 2 weekday round trips on the Camden Line.
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