Maryland transportation secretary Rahn to leave Hogan administration; state highway chief to take over

Maryland’s transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, is leaving his position, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday. In this file photo, Rahn speaks about drivers' licenses at a Motor Vehicle Administration office in Annapolis.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, who proposed a historic highway expansion effort in the Washington suburbs while drawing criticism for a lack of investment in Baltimore’s mass transit systems, said Monday he’s resigning.

As Gov. Larry Hogan’s top transportation official since 2015, Rahn has overseen the state’s highways, mass transit systems, toll facilities, Motor Vehicle Administration, the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.


“I am very proud of what the department has done on behalf of the governor,” Rahn, 65, said in a phone interview. “It certainly has been a challenge. This is my third state. It is by far the most complex state that I have worked in. ... I have no doubt that the department’s going to continue to do great things.”

Hogan said in a news release that he has selected Greg Slater, a 20-year state employee who has headed the State Highway Administration since 2017, as Rahn’s successor.


Rahn’s annual salary was $187,919, and Slater will be paid the same, according to the governor’s office. Slater was paid $163,000 last year, according to state salary records.

Rahn said he is leaving state government to rejoin his wife, two children and five grandchildren in New Mexico, where he worked before taking his position in Maryland.

Rahn led the governor’s plan to hire contractors to add toll lanes to widen the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 in the Washington area; the private firms would receive toll revenue from the completed projects. The Hogan administration has touted the plan as the largest public-private partnership or “P3” in the world, although it has its detractors.

Rahn and Hogan also announced plans last month for Maryland and Virginia to coordinate on rebuilding and widening the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River, a bottleneck on the Capital Beltway.

Hogan, a Republican, praised Rahn’s work on the Capital Beltway projects, as well as the Purple Line, a 16.2-mile light rail line in the Washington suburbs that’s under construction.

Rahn also played a key role in securing money from the state, the federal government and CSX to expand the Howard Street Tunnel under Baltimore so that cargo containers on freight trains eventually can be double-stacked, a much more efficient way to move the truck-sized boxes.

Rahn and Hogan have been criticized for their transportation priorities, with transit advocates saying the administration has de-emphasized alternatives to driving in favor of highway projects.

“In public life, if you’re going to undertake big things, it’s going to generate controversy,” Rahn said. “But I believe what we have done has been very good for the state. Maryland’s transportation system is better today, and it’s headed in a direction that will continue to get better.”


A decision to cancel the $2.9 billion Red Line project — a proposed east-west train line in Baltimore — just six months after Rahn was appointed secretary made his agency a frequent target of Baltimore transit advocates’ ire. Later, the state spent $135 million to reorganize and rebrand its public bus system in the city and its suburbs. Bus ridership initially fell, but eventually rebounded.

The Metro Subway system, which runs from Owings Mills to downtown Baltimore, shut down for nearly four weeks in 2018 for emergency track repairs, affecting tens of thousands of daily commuters. Rahn faced calls for his resignation after the Maryland Transit Administration acknowledged it had continued running trains for more than a year on tracks that violated its safety standards.

"If you’re going to undertake big things, it’s going to generate controversy. But I believe what we have done has been very good for the state.”

—  Pete Rahn, Maryland transportation secretary

Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat who serves on the House of Delegates transportation committee, said Rahn showed an “unwillingness to consider the important role that a public transportation system has to play in any fully functional statewide transportation system.”

Lierman said Rahn “consistently fought” efforts to work toward a functional, multi-modal transportation system.

“Secretary Rahn was always amiable and open to discussion, but, ultimately, it was difficult to find common ground with him,” she said.

Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey said it was “wonderful news” that Rahn was leaving.


Dorsey, a Democrat, said Rahn and Hogan were focused on “car-centric transportation planning." He said Rahn had “an absolute disinterest in growing our population in our city sustainably and equitably through real and robust investment in public transit.”

Rahn also took flak in recent months for redecking work on the Bay Bridge that led to lengthy traffic jams. The state responded by instituting automated tolling and speeding up the construction schedule.

Advocates for drivers and transportation investments in the Washington area praised Rahn’s work.

Ragina C. Ali, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents nearly 1 million Maryland drivers, said the auto club appreciated Rahn’s efforts to improve highways. His successes included projects to reduce congestion on the Baltimore beltway and Washington-area highways, Ali said.

Ali said Hogan’s choice of Slater as the next transportation secretary indicates the administration will continue to focus on roads.

“It certainly bodes well for Maryland motorists that someone of the caliber of Greg Slater, and someone who has a handle on highway issues, from his role of SHA administrator, has been selected to take the lead at MDOT,” she said.


Maryland has made historic progress on projects in the Washington area, including investments that helped return the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to a state of good repair, said Jason Miller, CEO of the Greater Washington Partnership.

“We look forward to continuing our work with Administrator Slater in his new role leading the Maryland Department of Transportation to transform our roads, rail and transit systems to better connect residents to jobs and opportunity," Miller said in a statement.

Courtesy photo of Greg Slater, nominated by Gov. Larry Hogan to be the next secretary of transportation.

Maryland invested in expansions of the state-owned port and BWI Airport during Rahn’s tenure.

State officials voted last year to spend $60 million to add 55,000 square feet to BWI’s Concourse A to upgrade baggage systems and add other amenities to handle Southwest Airlines’ growth.

In the first expansion of the port in three decades, the state spent $55 million in 2017 to buy Point Breeze Business Center near Seagirt Marine Terminal in Southeast Baltimore, growing the state-owned container terminal’s footprint to 356 acres. The port has been struggling to keep up with historic increases in cargo traffic, which have squeezed it for space and created headaches for truckers.

Under Rahn, the Motor Vehicle Administration began a program that promised customers they would be seen within 15 minutes if they made an appointment. But the agency faced harsh criticism for having to call back more than 800,000 Maryland drivers to collect copies of documents required for identification compliant with federal Real ID rules and for a computer glitch that forced 80,000 voters to vote by provisional ballot in 2018.


Rahn has been flying home to visit his family roughly once every three months during his nearly five years on the job, he said. He said his wife never thought Hogan would be re-elected in 2018 in heavily Democratic Maryland, and so she expected Rahn’s job as transportation secretary to last only four years.

Rahn’s last day will be Jan. 9.

“I have nothing lined up right now," he said. "I’m going to go back and enjoy an extended amount of time with my grandkids, and then I’ll see what comes my way.”

His departure was announced in advance of a meeting Tuesday of Hogan’s cabinet.

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Slater will take over Jan. 10 as acting transportation secretary. He’s subject to a confirmation vote in the state Senate.

Before he came to Maryland, Rahn was a senior executive at Kansas City, Missouri-based HNTB Corp. HNTB led a consortium of companies that sought a contract related to the Capital Beltway and I-270 toll lanes project. Rahn approved an expedited selection process, prompting ethical concerns. Hogan ordered the project to be rebid.


Asked whether he would accept a job with any of the firms involved, Rahn said he had not been contacted about it.

“No one has talked to me about a job with any of those companies,” he said.

Del. Robbyn Lewis, a Baltimore Democrat, said she’s hopeful Slater will have a stronger focus on improving transit systems.

“We don’t need highway expansion,” she said. “We need investment in transit, and it would be so wonderful to see that kind of forward-thinking leadership coming from the Department of Transportation.”

The Maryland Matters website first reported Rahn’s departure.