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  • Maryland

Senate panel approves Rahn nomination

A Senate committee unanimously recommended the confirmation of Gov. Larry Hogan's choice to be transportation secretary Monday night after bringing him back for a second round of questioning.

The vote came after Pete Rahn, a former top transportation official in New Mexico and Missouri, told the Senate Executive Nominations Committee that he is looking for ways to reduce the cost to the state of building the proposed Red and Purple light rail lines.

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Baltimore senators expressed concern after Rahn said he would finish his cost review of the $2.4 billion Purple Line in the Washington suburbs before starting his inquiry into the $3 billion Red Line in Baltimore.

"Then I will begin the conversation on the Red Line on what we can do to lower costs," Rahn said.

Also recommended to the full Senate were three other Hogan Cabinet appointees: Ben Grumbles at the Maryland Department of the Environment, Kenneth C. Holt at Housing and Community Development and Rona Kramer as secretary of aging.

However, a vote on R. Michael Gill's appointment to lead the Department of Business and Economic Development was held up at the request of Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat who said she was dissatisfied with some of the answers Gill had given her on issues of diversity.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the committee, said Gill will receive a vote next week.

Rahn was called back after questioning last week. The committee voted for him Monday after he gave multiple assurances that he is sensitive to Maryland's need for public transit as well as roads.

The delay in the committee's confirmation vote was in part the result of the way he was introduced to Maryland. When Hogan announced his appointment, he hailed Rahn as the "best highway builder in the entire country."

It was a compliment that Rahn has been trying to live down ever since because it raised questions among urban lawmakers about his commitment to public transit.

Baltimore and Washington-area senators are particularly concerned because Rahn is the official who will advise the governor whether to proceed to construction of the Red and Purple Lines — projects Hogan had said on the campaign trail that Maryland could not afford.

Rahn expressed confidence in his qualifications to lead one of the state's largest departments — one that operates transit systems, airports, toll facilities and ports as well as maintaining the state highway system. And in response to a question from Raskin about the Purple Line, he acknowledged one of its proponents' main arguments — that cancellation of the New Carrollton-Bethesda line would impede economic development.

"I can understand that there are lost opportunities if this is not built," he said.

Erin Henson, the transportation department's chief spokeswoman, said the reason for putting the Purple Line first is that officials want to use that project to demonstrate the viability of the type of public-private partnership that the Maryland Transit Administration wants to form to hold down the cost to the state. Bids are expected in August. After that, Rahn said, he would turn his attention to the Red Line.

Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat, expressed concern about the delay.

"The longer we wait, certainly the more expensive the Red Line becomes," she said. Rahn said he doubted five months would make a big difference.

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In response to a question about MARC commuter train service, Rahn let the cat out of the bag on an announcement scheduled for next week about an expansion of service on the Baltimore-Washington Camden Line.

Jim Knighton, director of government relations at the MTA, said MARC will add two trains to the line each day. One will leave Washington in the morning and return from Baltimore in the afternoon. The other will make both runs after noon, Knighton said.

Knighton said one of the most compelling reasons to add service is an increase in demand for transportation between the University of Maryland's College Park and Baltimore campuses caused by a growth in joint degree programs.

Rahn said Sen. James C. Rosapepe, a Democrat who represents College Park, had pushed hard for more trains on the CSX-owned line.

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