Gov. Wes Moore has tapped a former head of the Maryland Transit Administration and BWI Marshall Airport as his cabinet nominee to carry out his transportation agenda.
Paul J. Wiedefeld, who led the MTA and BWI mostly under former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, will take over as Moore’s transportation secretary after resigning last year as general manager of the Metro transit system in Washington.
He will be tasked with leading an agency that Moore has said is one of his top priorities in his first year in office. The Democratic governor’s $63 billion state budget plan unveiled last week included $3.6 billion in transportation projects and another $500 million set aside for projects that he said his eventual transportation secretary would help decide.
“Paul has proven to be a thoughtful and decisive leader who knows how to make tough choices and necessary choices, in order to advance progress. He also understands the importance of public transit and the role that it plays in the lives of all of our citizens,” Moore said during a news conference in Annapolis. “Paul is the transportation leader that we need in this moment.”
Wiedefeld began leading the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in 2015 after former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ousted him from Maryland state government six months into his first term.
Wiedefeld previously had served as chief of BWI from 2002 to 2005 before returning again in 2009 under O’Malley. The chief helped grow the airport to become the 22nd-largest in the country in terms of number of passengers, in part through a $1.8 billion expansion that included the construction of a Southwest Airlines terminal and a parking garage.
Wiedefeld arrived at the Washington Metro after years of safety lapses and service issues. He resigned ahead of a scheduled retirement last year after revelations that train operators did not go through required retraining, which led to train operators being pulled and then further service delays.
Moore, asked about potential safety concerns and questions during Wiedefeld’s confirmation process in the state Senate, said his administration conducted “a full vetting process” and that he’s confident in his selection.
In returning to state government under Moore’s nascent administration, Wiedefeld said he looks forward to working toward the new governor’s vision of “social equity, environmental protection and sustainable communities — and most importantly, a department that enhances the economic opportunities for all citizens of Maryland.”
Moore has declined to specifically outline his priorities for major transportation projects, including how he’ll use the additional $500 million he wants to set aside in the budget. During his budget announcement last week, he repeatedly said the transportation secretary would have a heavy hand in making those decisions.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun in his new office Friday, Moore said there was no shortage of pressing issues on the topic — from highway traffic in the Washington, D.C., suburbs to the cost overruns and delays for the Purple Line rail project to the long-dormant Red Line light rail project in Baltimore.
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The Red Line was planned as an east-west route across Baltimore before Hogan killed the project in 2015. Moore has been a proponent of reviving the project, though his initial budget plan does not specifically call for funding for it in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
He said in the interview that he’s been in conversations with federal officials and does not want to “start from scratch” after steps already were completed years earlier, including an environmental impact study. Getting it back off the ground, though, will depend on funding sources and on having a transportation secretary who can get work done “on time and on budget,” Moore said.
Attorney General Anthony Brown, who served as lieutenant governor under O’Malley and then as a U.S. House member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke about working with Wiedefeld in various roles.
“During a period of time where passenger volume figuratively and literally took off ... your stewardship of that was extraordinary,” Brown said at the news conference Tuesday.
Raymond Jackson, president of ATU Local 689, which represents 13,000 Washington Metro employees, said his union had “a contract that made the workers happy as well as the management” under Wiedefeld.
“But one of the best things that Paul showed me is ... that he really cared about his workers,” said Jackson, recalling phone calls they would have at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. about how to keep workers safe during the pandemic.
Moore has named 20 appointees, leaving just a few others, such as secretaries for higher education and the state police, to fill out this cabinet. The appointees will be subject to confirmation in the 47-member state Senate, where the Democrat-controlled chamber is expected to begin the vetting and confirmation process in the coming weeks.