Md. delegation offers bipartisan support for transportation funding

Funding for Howard Street Tunnel expansion remains uncertain.

As President Donald Trump prepares to release a budget this week that will propose heavy limits on spending, Maryland's congressional delegation wants the administration to maintain a $4.5 billion transportation program that may have a significant impact on the state.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao made public on Monday, the bipartisan group of lawmakers requested the department move quickly to award a second round of grants approved by Congress in 2015 that are geared toward freight and highway projects.

Maryland applied for three of those grants. One proposal is for the expansion of the 121-year-old Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore, a choke point for freight coming into the Port of Baltimore. The other projects involve accommodating increased port traffic on I-95 and a widening of I-81.

"The Department of Transportation did not award these grants before the last administration left office, and we urge you to review this program and these applications and make second round awards as quickly as possible," the letter reads. "We believe Maryland has submitted highly-competitive applications for this program."

Trump is expected to unveil a budget proposal on Thursday that would recommend deep cuts to federal agencies except for the Defense Department. At the same time, the president has promised to improve the "nation's crumbling infrastructure." Ultimately, both of those efforts must be reviewed and approved by Congress.

The Maryland lawmakers wrote in their letter that the projects would have benefit in dozens of other states that rely on goods coming into the Port of Baltimore, one of only four East Coast ports capable of handling a larger class of ships moving through the Panama Canal.

Gov. Larry Hogan's administration applied for a $155 million FASTLANE grant for the Howard Street Tunnel project in December. The federal Department of Transportation did not approve the state's initial application for the project in 2015.

The letter was signed by Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen as well as Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Steny Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, John Delaney, Anthony G. Brown and Jamie Raskin -- all Democrats. It was also signed by Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, the state's sole Republican representative in Congress.

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