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Port of Baltimore to widen channel, add cargo capacity, rail access

Vice President Joe Biden says a $10 million federal grant for the Port of Baltimore will create middle-class jobs in the state and allow the country to compete as an international shipping hub.

During an announcement Monday, Vice President Joe Biden said that the $10 million federal grant awarded to the Port of Baltimore could create 5,700 new jobs. (Kristi Tousignant / The Daily Record)

The grant money will widen a channel at Seagirt Marine Terminal, increase cargo capacity and add rail access at the Fairfield Marine Terminal. Biden announced the grant Monday at the Seagirt Marine Terminal.

“Look folks, if we are going to make it here in America and continue to make it here in America, we have got to be able to ship it around the world,” he said.

The expansion is expected to create 5,700 new jobs, Biden said. The Port of Baltimore is currently responsible for 50,000 jobs indirectly and 15,000 jobs directly.

“What is so important, what we need to do for the city, for the state, for the community is to create jobs,” said U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md. “In order to create jobs, you have to create infrastructure.”

The widening of the channel will enable the port to accommodate ships 160 feet wide, Biden said.

“It’s about a super city being ready for these supertankers,” said U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes, also a Maryland Democrat.

The dredged material collected from widening the channel will be used to fill a basin near Fairfield Marine Terminal to create a new 7.6-acre staging area to store cargo. Rail access will be added to the Fairfield terminal to more easily accommodate farm and construction machinery.

“The world is changing,” Biden said. “We are now able to carry so much more on cargo ships.”

Work on port improvements is scheduled to begin next summer and the project is expected to take about two years to complete, according to a Maryland Port Administration spokesman.

The grants are part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2013 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The U.S. Department of Transportation allocated $474 million to 52 projects in 37 states in its 2013 TIGER grant program.

“It’s a testament of character and integrity and the grit of Baltimore’s worker that this administration has decided to invest here as a hub for a growing American economy,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The total estimated cost of the project is $29 million. The Maryland Department of Transportation will pay $19 million toward the improvements.

“We need to be willing to come together and make modern investments,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Biden made the announcement with O’Malley, U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin — both Maryland Democrats — and other city and state officials.

“We are proud of the men and women of the Port of Baltimore,” Mikulski said. “The tugboat operators, the longshoremen, the crane operators, the truckers all of those who every day in every way are out there working hard, sweating to get the job done to make sure we send cargo out there and we unload down here.”

The expansion of the port is an effort to accommodate the larger ships that will come from the Panama Canal, which is undergoing its own expansion and is expected to double capacity by 2015.

Biden stressed the importance of investing in infrastructure to bring manufacturing back to the United States and compete with the rest of the world on shipping and exports.

“We can compete,” Biden said. “It’s stamped into our DNA. In order to be able to do that, we have to be able to get our products efficiently around the world.”

Biden’s visit to Baltimore is part of his tour of East Coast ports this summer before he heads to Panama and Mexico next week.

“The Port of Baltimore is going to continue to send ships out over the horizon, but it’s not just Baltimore, the rest of the country has to catch up, the rest of the East Coast has to catch up,” he said. “The opportunities are immense.”