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Buttigieg to visit Port of Baltimore on Thursday to tout Biden’s infrastructure deal

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will visit the Port of Baltimore on Thursday to tout the benefits of President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, which will include billions for port and waterway upgrades.

Buttigieg will join Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott for a 2:30 p.m. tour of Seagirt Marine Terminal, the port’s bustling container terminal, and Dundalk Marine Terminal, the port’s largest general cargo facility.

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The secretary will then speak about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework’s investment in U.S. port infrastructure and “the Biden administration’s focus on alleviating temporary supply chain disruptions” in a 3 p.m. news conference, according to a Wednesday news release.

“Secretary Buttigieg is scheduled to take a tour, meet with port officials and workers, and deliver remarks,” the U.S. Department of Transportation said in a news release.

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He arrives in Baltimore after a Senate vote Wednesday night to begin work on a $1 trillion national infrastructure plan, which includes about $550 billion in new spending on highways, bridges, transit, broadband, water systems and other public works projects.

The port visit was announced Tuesday amid intense negotiations among senators and the White House to salvage the bipartisan deal, with pressure mounting on all sides to wrap up talks and show progress on Biden’s top priority.

Van Hollen said the package includes $17 billion in upgrades for the nation’s ports and waterways that will help Baltimore and other ports address dock congestion from significant increases of cargo volume in recent years. Truck drivers have protested terminal conditions outside Seagirt twice in recent years.

“There are a number of parts of their operation that they want to modernize and streamline,” the Maryland Democrat said. “These funds will go to support their efforts, just to improve the logistics and support the flow of cargo.”

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The state-owned Port of Baltimore needs more than $250 million in asset modernization, Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said during the Greater Baltimore Committee’s virtual Transportation and Infrastructure Summit on Monday.

That’s part of a more than $7 billion maintenance backlog across the port and the state’s highways, transit, airports and other transportation systems, Slater said. Those needs would be first in line for any federal funding Maryland receives from the deal, he said.

“We need to make those investments so the port is going to be there for the future,” he said. “Our whole system needs that investment.”

The deal also will invest $1 billion into reconnecting communities divided by transportation infrastructure, such as the “Highway to Nowhere,” the sunken, 1.2-mile section of U.S. 40 that displaced thousands of Black families when it was built through West Baltimore, Van Hollen said.

The provision had been part of Van Hollen and Sen. Ben Cardin’s Reconnecting Communities Act. The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Anthony Brown and Kweisi Mfume and sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes, all Maryland Democrats.

“It was introduced with the ‘Highway to Nowhere’ in Baltimore in mind,“ Van Hollen said. “The money will demolish the 1960s infrastructure that divided the community and then will provide funds for reconstruction of street grids, parks or other infrastructure.”

Maryland will be “knocking hard on the door” to receive that funding, the senator said.

Still unclear is how to pay for the package after Democrats rejected a plan to bring in funds by hiking the gas tax drivers pay at the pump and Republicans dashed a plan to boost the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.

Funding could come from repurposing COVID relief aid, reversing a Trump-era pharmaceutical rebate and other streams. It’s possible the final deal could run into political trouble if it doesn’t pass muster as fully paid for when the Congressional Budget Office assesses the details.

But lead GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said Wednesday the package will be “more than paid for.”

The bipartisan deal sets the stage for the next debate over Biden’s much more ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan pursuit of far-reaching programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health care that touch almost every corner of American life, and that Republicans strongly oppose.

A spokesman for Scott, also a Democrat, said he is excited to welcome Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to Baltimore.

“The mayor has a good relationship with Secretary Buttigieg and is aware of the upcoming trip,” said Cal Harris, communications director. “Mayor Scott supports the Port of Baltimore and looks forward to welcoming the secretary and former mayor to Charm City.”

Hogan, a Republican, will also be on hand to greet Buttigieg, a former Democratic presidential candidate who endorsed Biden after dropping out of the primary.

“The governor spoke to Secretary Buttigieg earlier [Tuesday] about the ongoing infrastructure negotiations in Washington, and looks forward to welcoming him to the Port on Thursday,” said Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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