ANNAPOLIS — Gov.-elect Larry Hogan may have sent his strongest signal yet on the fate of two multibillion-dollar rail projects Monday when he announced his pick for the next secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Hogan named Pete K. Rahn, a transportation expert who ran state transportation departments in Missouri and New Mexico, to run the department that oversees highways, mass transit, and the proposed rail lines in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and in Baltimore City and County respectively.
Rahn, currently a senior vice president for Kansas City, Missouri-based transportation consulting firm HNTB, has a reputation as a frugal project manager who focuses on quick, inexpensive highway projects — a fact that could spell doom for the state’s two major rail projects whose combined cost is approaching $6 billion.
Legislators two years ago passed increases in the gas tax to help pay for the state portion of the project that will also include federal money.
Rahn was the only Cabinet level official named in the group of seven senior officials announced by the governor-elect, was careful not to declare either rail project dead.
“Actually, I think it’s very important that Maryland or any other state have a very balanced network of transportation that’s going to best serve the citizens of that state,” Rahn said. ”So it means you have to have a system that’s safe, a system that is efficient, that moves people and supports good economic development. And so whatever balance, whatever tools provide that level of customer service to the citizens, that’s what Maryland needs.”
Hogan joked that Rahn’s answer might have been too balanced.
“Let me say: he’s the best highway builder in the country,” Hogan said. “That had a lot to do with us hiring him.”
Hogan, who will take the oath of office on Jan. 21, made campaign promises to associations that represent county and municipal governments that he would restore their share of state spending on local highway projects. The money to keep that promise would likely come from the same fund that would pay for the rail projects.
Some legislative leaders say Hogan will likely have to choose between the two.
“He can’t do what he wants to do with roads and do the Purple and Red Lines at the same time,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Miller said the rail projects are economic engines and tied the Purple Line directly to the state’s chances of securing the location for the new FBI headquarters.
“We need good roads but at the same time, we need a balanced transportation plan,” Miller said.
In addition to Rahn, Hogan named six others to senior positions within his administration:
• Tim Hutchins, a former state delegate and superintendent of the Maryland State Police, as director of Homeland Security.
• Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington County, as director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
• Steve McAdams as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives.
• Arlene Lee as executive director of the Governor’s Office for Children.
• Robert Scholz, a corporate attorney and partner in the Baltimore firm of Niles Barton & Wilmer LLP, as the governor’s counsel.
• Del. Keiffer Mitchell, D-Baltimore City, as special adviser to the governor with a focus on charter school policy.
• Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-Eastern Shore and a former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, as director of Intergovernmental Services.