Port of Baltimore awarded $6.5M federal grant to upgrade berths

The Port of Baltimore is getting a nearly $6.6 million federal grant to build an additional 50-foot-deep berth to accommodate large container ships.

“The more cargo, the more money we make and the more jobs we create,” said U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose district includes the port. “This is really going to help the port.”

Ruppersberger said he received a call Thursday from the deputy secretary of transportation, notifying him that the Maryland Port Administration would be awarded a grant through the BUILD — Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development — program.

The port administration had applied for an $8 million grant to expand one of the berths at the Seagirt Marine Terminal from 45 feet to 50 feet, and was awarded $6,554,575 million.

The total cost of the project will be $32.7 million. The state will contribute $7.8 million, and Ports America, the company with a long-term contract to operate the port, will contribute $18.4 million.

Construction on the berth expansion is scheduled to begin in late 2019 and is expected to last about one year.

Seagirt already has one 50-foot-deep berth, which “has been appealing to ocean carriers,” Maryland’s congressional delegation wrote in a letter supporting the grant application. That berth and four new cranes went into service in 2013.

“As all vessels continue to grow in size, the Port of Baltimore will face berth constraints and will soon be excluded from continued international trade growth unless it can provide more than one deep-draft berth and additional cranes,” the delegation wrote.

Ruppersberger said the delegation was successful in arguing that creating a second, 50-foot berth would facilitate increased business at the port, which in turn leads to more jobs and money.

“These funds will expand the Port’s capacity, spurring economic growth and creating more good-paying jobs across Baltimore and the state,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who backed the project. “The Port of Baltimore connects the Maryland economy with businesses and opportunities across the globe.”

Ruppersberger said with so much partisanship in Washington, he was glad the delegation could deliver federal assistance to a worthy local project.

“When you can bring home the bacon to your district, this is what I think taxpayers want us to do,” said Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat.

“We appreciate Secretary (Elaine) Chao working with us on this important issue,” the Maryland lawmakers wrote in a statement Thursday. “Team Maryland stands united to use every opportunity to ensure these kind of investments in Maryland’s economy continue through the next Congress.”

In addition to the grant to the port, Maryland also landed a $20 million BUILD grant to add an interchange on Interstate 95 in the Port Deposit area of Cecil County. The interchange at Belvidere Road would be near a business park and would improve truck traffic in the area, according to the governor’s office.

“These projects will support thousands of new jobs and spur economic growth and development in every corner of our state,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement.

This is the second time this year the federal government has given a significant transportation grant in the Baltimore area.

Earlier this year, the federal goverment awarded $20 million to Baltimore County and Tradepoint Atlantic for upgrading the company’s port facilities in Sparrows Point. Tradepoint is redeveloping a former steel mill site into an industrial, logistics and manufacturing hub.

While Tradepoint already has some shipping activity, company officials have said the property’s port was long neglected during the decline of the steel mill and is in need of an upgrade. Tradepoint also is planning to dredge its approach channels and basin to accommodate larger ships.

The grant to Tradepoint came through the federal government’s predecessor to BUILD, known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

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