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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: Bridges, clean water, two bay islands and Highway to Nowhere on Maryland’s infrastructure to-do list | COMMENTARY

Using federal infrastructure money approved by Congress last year, Baltimore officials hope to redevelop the so-called Highway to Nowhere on the west side into a swath of public land useful to the communities originally harmed by the construction of the ill-conceived interstate.

I promise not to mention Donald Trump in this column. I’ll refer to him as “Florida man,” as the New York Post did the other day, after he claimed that he will again run for president. (I say “claimed” because it’s hard to believe anything Florida man says.)

A point the pundits have missed in discussing Florida man’s waning influence: It really started a year ago, when he failed to get Republicans in Congress to kill the $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill.

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Though banned from social media platforms that once gave him so much traction, Florida man last fall released a series of statements blasting Senate Republicans for working with Democrats on the bill. He called them “weak, foolish and dumb,” and warned that Republicans would lose “lots of primaries” if they voted to spend billions on roads and bridges.

Florida man lost that battle bigly, with 19 Republican senators joining 50 Democrats to pass the measure. The tally in the House was 228 to 206, with 13 Republicans voting for the infrastructure bill. (Alas, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland was not one of them.)

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While the number of Republicans who supported the bipartisan bill was relatively small, historically speaking, their votes notably marked a break from their usual deference to Florida man. They essentially shrugged at his bullying and warnings.

It’s worth pointing out for context. Many see the weak GOP results of the midterm elections as a sign of the Florida man’s shrinking power over the Republican Party. But his shrinkage commenced a year earlier, on Nov. 15, 2021, when his successor, President Joe Biden, signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

And what hath that bill wrought?

Democrats are only too glad to tell us. (Hey, when you vote for something that might delight your constituents, you get to brag a little.)

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, called the law “a once-in-a-generation investment to create millions of good-paying jobs repairing, rebuilding and revitalizing our communities.”

That’s glorious news release rhetoric, but it’s probably true, assuming all this money gets to the state and local agencies responsible for seeing that it’s spent as intended.

“Decades of underinvestment have left Maryland communities in urgent need of repair and modernization,” Ruppersberger said. “The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Maryland’s infrastructure an overall grade of C, including a D+ for its transit systems.”

While there was some initial reporting on where all this federal money would go, I thought my fellow Marylanders would like some follow-up. So here’s what we’ve been told about infrastructure spending by the White House and members of the Maryland congressional delegation:

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More than $2.6 billion will come to the state for some 35 projects, most of them involving what you’d expect — roads, bridges, public transit, ports and airports.

Additionally, and more specifically, millions have been designated for the following purposes:

  • $144 million for clean water projects.
  • $57 million for clean energy, home weatherization and power grid improvements.
  • $22.7 million to expand the state’s network of electric vehicle charging stations.
  • More than 175,000 low-income households could be able to afford high-speed internet subscriptions through the Affordable Connectivity Program. The infrastructure bill included about $65 billion for that national program.
  • $9.4 million to Baltimore schools for electric school buses.
  • $6 million to modernize Baltimore’s Penn Station.
  • $50,000 to Morgan State University to fix some environmental problems on campus.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, pushed Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration to seek funds for a potentially transformative project in West Baltimore — the redevelopment of the tragic Highway to Nowhere.

Last month, the city’s Department of Transportation applied for up to $2 million for a feasibility and design study.

When it was built, the stretch of Route 40 through the Franklin-Mulberry corridor destroyed hundreds of homes, dozens of businesses and displaced some 1,500 mostly Black residents. “Removing the highway will return roughly 600 acres to the community for development and green space,” says Steve Sharkey, the city’s transportation director. “Our residents are deserving of this opportunity to revive this once thriving community and create their own unified vision of West Baltimore.”

Some of Maryland’s infrastructure money — about $84 million, according to the Army Corps of Engineers — will fund the restoration of James Island and Barren Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Those mid-bay islands have been disappearing for years. Dredge material from the Port of Baltimore will be used to restore them — James to 2,100 acres, Barren to about 72.

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“The project,” the Army Corps says, “is focused on restoring and expanding island habitat to provide hundreds of acres of wetland and terrestrial habitat for fish, shellfish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals through the beneficial use of dredged material.”

There’s still more infrastructure money going to other environmental projects:

  • $2.4 million for dredging the Northeast River in Cecil County.
  • $2.15 million for dredging in Herring Bay and Rockhold Creek in Anne Arundel County.
  • $50,000 for dredging Slaughter Creek in Dorchester County. Putting out a news release on this project, Andy Harris said: “Thankfully, with this round of funding, we will begin this long overdue process, and it will allow us to continue the important work of island restoration along the Mid-Shore.”

Except, of course, Harris didn’t vote for any of this.

In Washington, that’s called “voting no and taking the dough,” a flagrant act of deceit and hypocrisy that must have been inspired by — who else? — Florida man.


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