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Hogan’s plan to widen B-W Parkway hits federal roadblock

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn. (File)

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn. (File)

Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to ease commute times on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway is being clogged, at least temporarily, by congestion of the federal government kind.

Hogan’s plan to add two lanes in each direction of the parkway depends in part on taking over portions of the road controlled by the U.S. Department of the Interior. But Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn told a breakfast meeting of the BWI Business Partnership Wednesday that talks to take control of that strip of parkway have stalled.

“We are pushing for this. The governor has taken it on personally to attempt that transfer and the U.S. Interior secretary has been supportive,” said Rahn. “The park service hasn’t been too helpful.”

Following the meeting, Rahn attributed the delay to the departure of employees at the federal level.

“Everyone we were talking to is not there anymore,” said Rahn.

The secretary said he and state officials expect to meet with federal officials later this week to sign a memo of understanding, which Rahn described as an “agreement to continue talking.”

Rahn said the 32-mile parkway requires some modernization and raised concerns about the number of deaths — 14 last year — along a nearly 18-mile stretch controlled by Interior.

“It’s a highway, not a parkway. I know that’s not how it was designed,” Rahn said. “Some of its guardrails are rock walls.”

The state began discussions with the federal government last fall after Hogan announced his proposal. The widening was just one portion of a $9 billion proposed public-private partnership that includes widening portions of Interstates 495 and 270.

If built, all of the new lanes on the roads would be toll lanes.

The state is preparing to re-bid a contract to oversee the projects on I-495 and I-270 after questions were raised about Rahn’s involvement with the process. The state Department of Transportation was prepared last month to name Kansas, Missouri-based HNTB as the winner of a multiyear contract to oversee the two projects that are estimated to cost $7.6 billion.

Rahn worked for HNTB prior to joining the state in 2015, the same time he sold a small number of shares he owned in the company.

Rahn announced last month that he would recuse himself from the rebidding process after news reports revealed Rahn took the unusual step to chair the committee overseeing an abbreviated procurement process meant to speed the project along.

During the breakfast Wednesday, Rahn was asked about the status of the I-495 and I-270 widening projects.

“I don’t know,” Rahn said, putting up his hands. “I’m not involved with it.”

Rahn also talked about the future of transportation in Maryland, including an interest in 3D printing for transportation projects.

“Amsterdam printed a metal pedestrian bridge,” said Rahn, adding that the state has issued a request for information on the technology.

“I think it will be fantastic if we could print a bridge,” said Rahn.

The transportation secretary said the state also continues to review autonomous driving technologies and told the audience that driverless cars in Maryland are inevitable.

“It’s how we transition into it,” he said.

Rahn also touched on older transportation modes, saying the state is still interested in increasing productivity at its ports with double-stacked trains and remains in conversations with CSX, which last November declined to enter into an agreement to improve the 121-year-old Howard Street tunnel.

Rahn said the state continues to hold discussions with CSX but seemed pessimistic.

“I’m not convinced we’re not being strung along,” Rahn said. “Their new model of railroading is a bare-bones approach.”

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