Maryland applies for $155 million to expand Baltimore's Howard Street tunnel

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Maryland is trying for federal money to build infrastructure projects, including two in Baltimore.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday that the state has reapplied for a $155 million federal grant to help expand Baltimore's Howard Street Tunnel, a project considered crucial to boosting economic activity at the port of Baltimore.

The railroad tunnel, built in the 1890s, cannot accommodate freight trains with shipping containers stacked two high from ships calling at the port. The bottleneck potentially inhibits the port's growth because the cargo cannot be shipped inland as efficiently as from other ports.

In recent years, the state spent millions to upgrade the port to accommodate the world's largest ships.

The state and CSX, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad that owns the tunnel, want to spend $425 million to expand the tunnel to allow such double-stacked trains to pass through. In addition to the $155 million in federal finds, the state would spend $145 million and the railroad $125 million.

The federal application, filed Thursday, follows Hogan's October announcement that he was confident the U.S. Department of Transportation would approve Maryland's request in this round of FASTLANE grants, a program designed to jump start infrastructure projects that move freight. The department did not approve the state's applications in the inaugural round last year.

More than 200 applications were received for $800 million available in that first round of awards. Out of those applications, 18 projects were selected to receive funding.

If approved, the Howard Street Tunnel project would consume 18 percent of the $850 million available nationwide this year.

A spokesman for CSX said the upgrade would be "a boost to Maryland's economy, reduce traffic on Maryland's highways, and improve the flow of commerce up and down the eastern seaboard."

CSX officials said in September that the project would create 500 construction jobs and, eventually, 3,200 jobs statewide. It would also take 178,000 trucks off the road.

The tunnel expansion calls for adding two feet to the tunnel's 19-foot clearance. Once funded, the expansion is expected to require two years of design work and four years of construction.

A Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman said the state also requested money for two other projects: $76.1 million to widen Interstate 95 ramps around Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's Port Covington development in South Baltimore and $46 million to widen I-81 in western Maryland, a key freight route.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Department said there is no timeline for awarding the grants.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has asked President-elect Donald Trump to fund both the Port Covington project and the tunnel expansion when he takes office next year. The two met briefly last week at the Army-Navy football game at M&T Bank Stadium.

Trump, a Republican, has called for spending $1 trillion on infrastructure.

During her inauguration this month, Pugh said she would work with Hogan to persuade the Trump administration to send some of that money to Baltimore.

"When he talks about the infrastructure needs of an urban environment, I say, 'That's our city,'" said Pugh, a Democrat. "When he talks about creating jobs and opportunities, I say, 'That's our city.'"

In October, Hogan said he expected the Obama administration to approve Maryland's request for grant money.

"We believe that this time, we will be successful," Hogan, a Republican, said at the time. "I had lunch with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the importance of this infrastructure project. I discussed it with the president in the Oval Office. … Our indication is that our project scored very high, that we just missed the funds last time, and we're going to push like heck to make sure we get them next time."

ecox@baltsun.com

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