Fund Md. railway project to strengthen nation's infrastructure

President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan is the start of an important conversation on how we modernize the nation’s aging transportation systems and prepare them to meet the demands of the 21st-century economy. But there is still a great deal of work to be done, and the president and Congress must work together to prioritize funding for critical infrastructure projects here in Maryland and throughout the Northeast Corridor.

Maryland’s railways are an important part of the Northeast Corridor rail system, which serves more than 820,000 people daily from Washington, D.C., to Boston and would cost the nation’s economy $100 million if it were to shut down for just one day.

Maximizing America’s future economic potential will require Maryland to have a healthy rail network that is capable of safely and reliably carrying its workforce to and from work. And that means the federal government must prioritize major local transportation initiatives such as the Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) Tunnel Replacement, which will ensure the long-term health of the Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure and enable the tunnel to meet increased demand in the coming decades.

Connecting the West Baltimore MARC station and Penn Station, the 1.4-mile B&P Tunnel is a key chokepoint where four tracks merge to two tracks and trains are forced to reduce speeds to 30 miles per hour. The 145-year-old tunnel is falling apart and requires constant — and costly — monitoring and maintenance.

A $60 million grant from High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail funded a preliminary engineering and environmental review of the proposed construction. Last year, the Federal Railroad Administration issued the Record of Decision, determining that the most environmentally friendly plan would be to construct a new four-track tunnel to replace the existing two-track one, which would significantly improve travel time for both Amtrak trains and MARC trains. But now the $4.52 billion project could be derailed if additional funding is not procured for design and construction.

That is where the federal government must step in to move this project forward. While it is encouraging to see the Trump administration begin substantively addressing the nation’s outdated infrastructure, the White House and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle must now take the next step to unlock the nation’s economic potential by devoting resources to projects such as the B&P Tunnel Replacement, which federal officials have argued would bolster the region’s economic success. In particular, the Appropriations Committee has an important role to play in 2018 to fund intercity passenger and commuter rail along the Northeast Corridor.

President Trump has made infrastructure one of the signature issues of his presidency. His recently released plan is the first step forward in rebuilding the nation’s railways and improving the future outlook of the nation’s economy. The next step is ensuring that critical rail projects in Maryland and throughout the Northeast Corridor have the financial support necessary to keep our infrastructure strong and sustainable for generations to come.

Michael Friedberg (Michael.Friedberg@hklaw.com) is the executive director of the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor.

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