Ho­gan pledges to ex­pand the Howard Street Tun­nel

Gov­er­nor ad­dresses a pinch point for cargo from port of Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Erin Cox

Gov. Larry Ho­gan promised Mon­day to find a way to ex­pand the more than cen­tury-old Howard Street Tun­nel un­derneath Bal­ti­more, a “trans­for­ma­tive” project he said could spur an al­most lim­it­less production in­crease at the port.

After tour­ing what he called the “in­fa­mous” tun­nel that bot­tle­necks freight com­ing out of the port of Bal­ti­more, Ho­gan pre­dicted the fed­eral gov­ern­ment would help pay the $425 mil­lion price tag to make it deeper.

“This is some­thing that we’re go­ing to make sure gets done,” Ho­gan told re­porters at the Sea­girt Ma­rine Ter­mi­nal. “It’s crit­i­cally im­por­tant, not only to the port of Bal­ti­more and the city of Bal­ti­more, but the en­tire state of Mary­land. It re­ally could be trans­for­ma­tive to our econ­omy.”

Ho­gan em­pha­sized the state’s plans to reap­ply for $155 mil­lion in fed­eral FASTLANE fund­ing, a new fed­eral grant pro­gram that last year doled out $800 mil­lion to 18 projects. Nei­ther of Mary­land’s ap­pli­ca­tions re­ceived any money last year.

But Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can, said he’s con­fi­dent the project will be funded in the sec­ond year of the grant pro­gram, cit­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion’s high rank­ing and his per­sonal ap­peals to Demo­cratic Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

“We be­lieve that this time, we will be suc­cess­ful,” Ho­gan said. “I had lunch with Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den to dis­cuss the im­por­tance of this in­fra­struc­ture project. I dis­cussed it with the pres­i­dent in the Oval

Of­fice.

“Our in­di­ca­tion is that our project scored very high, that we just missed the funds last time, and we’re go­ing to push like heck to make sure we get them next time.”

The Howard Street Tun­nel has vexed pub­lic of­fi­cials for decades — a costly in­fra­struc­ture prob­lem hold­ing back the eco­nomic for­tunes of the port.

Although the newly deep­ened port of Bal­ti­more is one of just a hand­ful that can ac­com­mo­date gi­ant ships mov­ing through the newly widened Panama Canal, the Howard Street Tun­nel bot­tle­neck lim­its how quickly cargo can move through the port.

The tun­nel, dug in the 1890s, was built to ac­com­mo­date trains of that era. It does not have enough clear­ance to al­low the pas­sage of dou­ble-stacked freight con­tain­ers, so cargo com­ing out of the port moves at half the pace that it can leave other fa­cil­i­ties.

If the tun­nel were ex­panded, 178,000 con­tain­ers that now leave the port on trac­tor-trail­ers each year could be moved by rail.

Pre­vi­ous es­ti­mates put at more than $1 bil­lion the cost of cre­at­ing two feet more clear­ance in the tun­nel.

Rail gi­ant CSX Corp., which owns the tun­nel and the track, thought the en­tire roof of the tun­nel would have to be re­moved and re­built. But new con­struc­tion and en­gi­neer­ing tech­niques used by CSX to ex­pand other ag­ing tun­nels dra­mat­i­cally brought down the cost for Howard Street, CSX spokesman Rob Doolit­tle said.

The new plan calls for drop­ping the floor of the tun­nel, notch­ing arch­ways to al­low the rec­tan­gu­lar ship­ping con­tain­ers to pass through, trim­ming back ceil­ings and us­ing lower-pro­file metal crossties in­stead of wooden ones. The ex­ist­ing ceil­ing would be re­in­forced.

CSX and Mary­land trans­porta­tion offi- cials pitched this cheaper plan to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment ear­lier this year. The state promised to cover $145 mil­lion of the project and CSX would pay for $125 mil­lion. They are hop­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will cover the re­main­ing $155 mil­lion.

Ho­gan said that even if fed­eral au­thor­i­ties do not agree to pay that, he would find an­other solution.

“We’d hate to say that we’re go­ing to do it with­out the feds or they wouldn’t want to help us,” he said. “We’re hope­ful to get the fed­eral money. It’s a very small chance that we won’t. But if we don’t, we’ll go back to the draw­ing board and fig­ure out a way to get this done.”

Ho­gan’s com­mit­ment comes as Mary­land deals with a loom­ing bud­get prob­lem — the econ­omy did not grow as quickly as state fore­cast­ers had pre­dicted. Last month, state of­fi­cials an­nounced they would have about $785 mil­lion less over the next two years than pre­vi­ously an­tic­i­pated.

Con­struc­tion work on the tun­nel project would gen­er­ate about 500 jobs, Mary­land and CSX of­fi­cials said. The ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity to move cargo would gen­er­ate about 3,000 jobs in and around the port, Ho­gan said.

It would take up to five years to con­struct the tun­nel once fund­ing is ap­proved. CSX would need to ex­pand sev­eral other bridges be­tween Bal­ti­more and Philadel­phia for dou­ble-stacked ship­ping con­tain­ers to travel unim­peded along the en­tire East Coast, Doolit­tle said.

Ho­gan said Bal­ti­more’s lo­ca­tion in the Mid-At­lantic al­lows cargo shipped to the port to reach about a third of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion overnight.

“There’s just al­most no limit to the in­creased production of the port, and how much it will help our econ­omy and how many jobs it will cre­ate,” he said.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The Howard Street Tun­nel, dug in the 1890s, is too small to ac­com­mo­date dou­ble-stacked freight con­tain­ers. This lim­i­ta­tion sig­nif­i­cantly im­pedes the flow of cargo out of the port of Bal­ti­more to the rest of the coun­try.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Gov. Larry Ho­gan says he’s spo­ken with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den about fed­eral fund­ing for the ex­pan­sion of the Howard Street Tun­nel.

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