Maryland and CSX Transportation have submitted another application for federal money to heighten the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore so it can fit shipping containers stacked two-high on freight trains — a project long sought by the port of Baltimore, officials announced Monday.
The cost of heightening the tunnel and 22 bridges between Baltimore and Philadelphia, initially estimated to be in the billions, is $466 million. The railroad and the state have agreed to chip in more than half of that amount — $147 million from the state, and $91 million from CSX. They are asking the federal government to pay the remaining $228 million.
While previous requests for federal funding for the tunnel expansion have gone unfulfilled, Gov. Larry Hogan called it “an essential project for the Port of Baltimore, State of Maryland, and the entire East Coast.”
“Reconstructing the Howard Street Tunnel will create thousands of jobs, open up new trade lanes for the Port, and improve overall freight rail service across our nation,” Hogan said in a statement. “I’d like to thank our leadership team at the Port and CSX for their partnership and willingness to continue working with us on a solution. We look forward to working with our federal partners to make this transformative project a reality.”
CSX withdrew its support of the project in November 2017, before reversing course last year and committing the money toward the project.
“CSX is pleased to partner with Governor Hogan and the State of Maryland on the Howard Street Tunnel project to help improve our nation's freight transportation system, maximize freight rail capacity, and increase intermodal connectivity between the northeastern and southeastern United States,” James M. Foote, CSX’s president and CEO, said in a statement Monday.
Expanding the tunnel would allow the port of Baltimore, which has seen historic growth at its container terminal in recent years, to handle an additional 80,000 shipping containers per year, the state said. The port ranks ninth in the country for total dollar value of its cargo and 12th in foreign cargo tonnage.
The request also seeks $55 million to widen 3.5 miles of Interstate 81 from U.S. 11 in West Virginia to Maryland routes 63 and 68 in Western Maryland. That request came with a $51 million commitment from Maryland and Washington County. West Virginia is planning to reimburse Maryland for $38 million for the project, which is expected to be completed in 2020.