A former Maryland delegate who has twice served as deputy transportation secretary, under Republican Govs. Robert Ehrlich and Larry Hogan, was picked Thursday to lead the agency overseeing the state’s eight toll facilities and the E-ZPass Maryland system.
James F. Ports Jr. was named executive director of the 1,700-employee Maryland Transportation Authority, the state agency that builds, manages and maintains bridges, tunnels and toll lanes. His appointment by the authority’s board is effective immediately.
Ports takes over amid a transition in the agency to fully cashless tolling, which will debut on the Key and Hatem bridges in October, and Hogan’s $11 billion plan to allow private companies to widen highways in the Washington suburbs. The MDTA also is spending $189 million on a three-year Interstate 895 bridge-replacement and tunnel-improvement project and upgrading its toll-collection technology.
“It’s just an exciting time to be here with all the technological moves we’re going to be making,” Ports said in a phone interview Thursday.
Ports, who made $167,820 as deputy transportation secretary, will receive an 8% raise in his new role, boosting his salary to $180,700.
Former MDTA executive director Kevin Reigrut, who resigned in April, was paid $151,715 — nearly 19% less.
Agency spokesman John Sales said Reigrut did not have as much experience as Ports, and added that the raise followed a recent survey “to compare salaries with other administrators on the East Coast.”
“That resulted in a bump in pay after [Reigrut] resigned,” Sales said in an email.
The state transportation department “has benefited tremendously from Jim’s breadth of experience and knowledge in transportation and operations,” Secretary Pete Rahn, who chairs the authority’s board, said in a statement. “I’m confident he will continue to deliver positive results and outstanding customer service at the MDTA.”
Ports, a Marine veteran and a state delegate from 1991 until 2002, served as deputy transportation secretary in the Ehrlich Administration from 2004 until 2007. He has reprised that role under Hogan since 2015.
He sees his new role as a chance to continue the work, especially on express toll lanes, that he started under Ehrlich.
“I was on front lines of that as deputy secretary in the Ehrlich administration, when a lot of people were opposing it,” he said.
Ports also previously worked as administrator and CEO of the Harford County Transit System and deputy administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
He replaces John O’Neill, the agency’s chief operating officer, who was named acting executive director after Reigrut’s resignation.
The MDTA has its own police department, a $324.4 million annual operating budget and a $3.1 billion six-year capital program.