Summer Savings! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

The right fix for I-95 travel plazas

Pot holes are not liberal or conservative. Nor are bridges, sewer lines, roads, airports or tunnels. They are our infrastructure. And much of it is deteriorating, in Maryland and across the nation.

There is simply not enough money. At least, not enough public money. And so, most state governments simply put off the new construction and slow down the maintenance. This is what happened with the state's two crumbling travel plazas along Interstate 95.

What to do? A recent example of a creative solution to the state's infrastructure problem is instructive.

Faced with a crisis confronting the Port of Baltimore and without funds to deal with it, the O'Malley administration engaged the private sector, creating an unusual public-private partnership — an approach appealing to Republicans but often resisted by members of his own party.

Full disclosure: I'm a Democrat and a Maryland Port Authority commissioner. I was appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley as the port was about to face one of its most compelling challenges: the widening of the Panama Canal. Our harbor simply did not have the capacity to handle the new supertankers being constructed to take advantage of the canal's new width.

After months of discussion, bids and negotiations, the governor approved a $245 million partnership with Ports America Chesapeake to develop a new berth at the Seagirt Marine Terminal in Dundalk, making Baltimore one of the two East coast ports capable of receiving the larger oceanic vessels crossing through the wider Panama Canal.

It was, in many ways, a policy breakthrough — transferring the construction and operating risk to a private company and jump-starting a project that would have languished for lack of funds. The Seagirt Agreement required Ports America Chesapeake to construct a 50-foot berth, to improve the terminals facilities and infrastructure, to purchase the larger cranes required to handle the larger containers, and to operate and maintain the site at their expense. The agreement also requires the company to pay the state a share of its revenue, increasing that share as the terminal shipping traffic grows.

Three months after the deal was signed, Ports America broke ground. The terminal is well on its way to completion, two years before the Panama Canal is widened. Last month, the governor welcomed another major shipper to the port, meaning three of the world's top five container companies now use our terminal.

And now come the I-95 travel plazas owned by the State Department of Transportation. Words like run-down, dilapidated and uncomfortable are too generous to describe these terminals. You can go see for yourself.

But if you are an agency that has trouble finding funds for essential highways, bridges or airports, the idea of improving a couple of stop-overs for folks heading south or north was not welcoming — financially or politically. The state opted to fund schools, not travel facilities. And so they sat. Neglected.

What to do?

The governor and his gang went to work: Why not do for the travel plazas what they did for the port terminal? Using the Seagirt model, they solicited proposals from several industry participants and — after careful evaluation and with help from the same team that forged the Seagirt partnership — the state settled on an experienced national operator who was joined by 10 Maryland firms, including Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore, Clarke Construction in Bethesda and Cain Contracting in Columbia.

Pending approval Wednesday by the Board of Public Works (and these things are always contentious), the state may get brand-new travel plazas with no public expenditure or debt and zero operating expenses. And like the Seagirt agreement, the state will receive a share of the gross revenue, with its share increasing as the use of the facilities grows.

These public-private partnerships seem to work. If the contract gets approved, the governor will be batting two for two. Maybe the state ought to do a few more.

Ted Venetoulis, a local publisher, is a former Baltimore County executive. His email is ted.venetoulis@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Maryland bungles I-95 travel plaza contract

    Maryland bungles I-95 travel plaza contract

    In Ted Venetoulis' recent op-ed about public/private partnerships (P3s), he correctly points out that they can be a good way to get important work done through "transferring the construction and operating risk to a private company." But Maryland's recent decision to award the contract for the travel...

  • Why two I-95 travel plazas?

    I have always wondered why we need two travel plazas along Maryland's northeast corridor of Interstate 95 that are only about 10 miles apart, especially when there is yet another one not far over the Delaware line.

  • Connecting communities and schools in Baltimore

    Connecting communities and schools in Baltimore

    A sea change is taking place in Baltimore, and it recently received national recognition. Where it's taking hold, school attendance is up. Chronic absenteeism is down. Student achievement and promotion rates are up. More families are engaged. School climates are being transformed.

  • Planned Parenthood attack part of political agenda

    Planned Parenthood attack part of political agenda

    Planned Parenthood is the most trusted women's health care provider in this country. Approximately one in five women in the United States has relied on a Planned Parenthood health center for care in her lifetime. At Planned Parenthood, nothing is more important to us than the health and safety...

  • Overcoming the confidence gap

    Overcoming the confidence gap

    When I was sent the link to a Baltimore Sun article about four local girls making the U.S. national Under-19 lacrosse team, I was eager to read it. After all, I had played on that same team 16 years ago, and one of my own students is on the team. So I opened the link, read the first sentence, and...

  • Encouraging innovation in Md.

    Encouraging innovation in Md.

    A recent Kauffman Foundation study found that year-over-year startup activity in the U.S. increased in 2015 for the first time in five years and showed the largest increase in more than 20 years. This is particularly good news from an employment perspective because new firms create the vast majority...

  • Pathways, not fences, for Baltimore's homeless

    Pathways, not fences, for Baltimore's homeless

    Earlier this month, I drove past the newly constructed fence located at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Franklin Street. The fence was erected to keep out the dozens of homeless people who had staked out a tiny piece of land there that they could call home. The city removed them...

  • The statinization of America

    The statinization of America

    Anyone who wants to know why medical costs continue to skyrocket needs only to look at the paper published in the July 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined the "cost-effectiveness" of increasing statin use. The article described a computer simulation that modeled...

Comments
Loading

82°