Op­ti­mism on Howard Street Tun­nel

CSX, Mary­land of­fi­cials still ex­pect U.S. to fund project

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Colin Camp­bell cm­camp­bell@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/cm­camp­bell6

CSX plans to spend $25 mil­lion to fix flood­ing in Bal­ti­more’s 120-year-old Howard Street Tun­nel and pre­pare en­gi­neer­ing plans for its ex­pan­sion, de­spite the project’s be­ing turned down for $155 mil­lion in fed­eral grant money in July.

Fed­eral trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials re­cently met with Mary­land and CSX rep­re­sen­ta­tives about the state’s FASTLANE grant ap­pli­ca­tion, said Louis Ren­jel, the rail­road’s vice pres­i­dent of strate­gic in­fra­struc­ture, speak­ing at the Greater Bal­ti­more Com­mit­tee’s an­nual trans­porta­tion sum­mit.

“They told us we lit­er­ally couldn’t have done bet­ter in any of the cat­e­gories,” Ren­jel said Wednes­day. “It was just a sense that the money was way over­sub­scribed. I think it was $6 or $7 of de­mand for ev­ery dol­lar avail­able.”

In ad­di­tion to the re­quested fed­eral funds, Mary­land had al­lo­cated $145 mil­lion for the project un­der down­town Bal­ti­more and CSX planned to sup­ply $125 mil­lion.

Ex­pand­ing the tun­nel is con­sid­ered im­per­a­tive for the long-term com­pet­i­tive­ness of the port of Bal­ti­more be­cause it would al­low for trains to haul ship­ping con­tain­ers to and from the port much more ef­fi­ciently by stack­ing them two-high.

The $21 mil­lion up­grade to the tun­nel’s wa­ter dis­charge sys­tem and the $4 mil­lion to move for­ward with en­gi­neer­ing plans for the ren­o­va­tion sig­nal CSX’s ex­pec­ta­tion that the fed­eral grant money will be awarded in a fu­ture round.

“If we se­cure fund­ing next year, be­cause we’re do­ing the drainage work, be­cause we’re do­ing the en­gi­neer­ing, we’re not skip­ping a beat here,” Ren­jel said.

Adding 2 feet to the tun­nel’s 19-foot clear­ance would cre­ate 500 con­struc­tion jobs and 3,200 jobs statewide over time, he said. In ad­di­tion to low­er­ing the port of Bal­ti­more’s costs, it would take 178,000 trucks off the road per year, he said.

If the tun­nel ex­pan­sion is funded, it would take about two years of de­sign and four years of con­struc­tion, since the work would need to be done on week­ends to avoid in­ter­rupt­ing freight traf­fic, said Bradley Smith, di­rec­tor of the state’s Of­fice of Freight and Mul­ti­modal­ism.

The project also would in­volve low­er­ing the tracks at nine lo­ca­tions north of the tun­nel in Remington and Charles Vil­lage, Smith said.

Wednes­day’s sum­mit at the Wa­ter­front Mar­riott in Har­bor East fo­cused on lon­gawaited up­grades to both the Howard Street Tun­nel and Am­trak’s Bal­ti­more & Po­tomac Tun­nel un­der Bolton Hill.

An en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact study will be re­leased next month on a pro­posal to bore a new, ex­panded B&P Tun­nel be­neath Reser­voir Hill, with a more grad­ual turn that would al­low for higher speeds, said Ro­drigo Bi­tar, Am­trak’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent and chief en­gi­neer.

That project has faced neigh­bor­hood push­back over po­ten­tial noise, vi­bra­tion, traf­fic and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts. The Reser­voir Hill pro­posal was cho­sen out of 16 op­tions, Bi­tar said.

Some res­i­dents have pointed out that the new tun­nel would be tall enough to ac­com­mo­date dou­ble-stacked freight trains, rais­ing con­cerns about whether it will bring freight traf­fic un­der their homes.

About 140 Am­trak and MARC pas­sen­ger trains and a few freight trains use the1.4-mile tun­nel daily. The new one could ac­com­mo­date 388 trains each day.

“That seems to be the con­cern, that we are try­ing to in­crease ca­pac­ity, bring­ing more freights through this tun­nel,” Bi­tar said. “In real­ity, we can­not spec­u­late what the mar­ket will be for freight, but that’s not the in­tent of the de­sign.

“The in­tent of the de­sign — we have been, I think, clear to the com­mu­nity about what we are try­ing to do — is that the same way that the cur­rent tun­nel de­sign is re­strict­ing us on speed, the same tun­nel’s size is re­strict­ing us on the equip­ment we can op­er­ate.”

The state re­ceived $60 mil­lion in fed­eral stim­u­lus money in 2010 to study en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts and de­sign 30 per­cent of the en­gi­neer­ing plans, Smith said. The money hinges on the com­ple­tion of those tasks next Septem­ber, and the state is on track to meet that dead­line, he said.

David Cle­ments, a pro­fes­sor of busi­ness stud­ies at the Com­mu­nity Col­lege of Bal­ti­more County, asked the panelists whether the po­ten­tial so­cioe­co­nomic im­pacts of the pro­posed B&P Tun­nel have been stud­ied.

His­tor­i­cally, trans­porta­tion projects have dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected poor, mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties in cities like Bal­ti­more, Rich­mond and Nor­folk, he said.

Smith re­sponded that the ef­fects on West Bal­ti­more neigh­bor­hoods rep­re­sent “a large part of the anal­y­sis” in the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact stud­ies. Am­trak and state of­fi­cials are ne­go­ti­at­ing the place­ment of ven­ti­la­tion fa­cil­i­ties with the com­mu­nity, he said. The tun­nel is deep enough that vi­bra­tions are not ex­pected to be an is­sue, he said.

“I didn’t get a feel­ing that they re­ally ad­dressed it,” Cle­ments said af­ter­ward. “I did come away with the un­der­stand­ing that they’re aware of it and it’s be­ing looked at. I wanted to make sure that it’s on the ta­ble.”

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