A long-awaited project that would improve the aging Howard Street Tunnel and which had been viewed as critical for the future of rail cargo shipments from the Port of Baltimore is fully funded, according to state transportation officials.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, said the Hogan administration worked closely with CSX to close the gap on the $466 million project.
“I am pleased to report that our efforts have paid off, and we have identified a variety of state, private and federal formula sources to close the funding gap,” Rahn wrote.
The letter comes on the heels of Rahn’s soft announcement that funding had been found during a Nov. 13 speech at a World Trade Center Institute event in Baltimore in which Rahn joked that he hoped no news media was present.
In July, the state announced it had been awarded a $125 million federal grant for the project. The state had already promised to contribute $147 million and CSX nearly $100 million.
Rahn in his Nov. 25 letter to Chao, does not identify where the $103 million balance will come from.
The 124-year old tunnel has been the site of a number of derailments, including a tunnel fire that impacted the downtown Baltimore area for several days.
Height restrictions have prevented the shipment of double-stacked cargo containers by rail to and from the port, a situation that had threatened to limit the port’s future operations.
“This nationally significant project has been a priority for the state of Maryland for decades, and once complete, it will fundamentally change the way containerized cargo moves around the country by creating a double-stack rail network to and from the Port of Baltimore and along the entire I-95 rail corridor,” Rahn wrote.
The proposed improvements are also expected to allow the port to increase the amount of cargo it handles. Over each of the last three years the port has posted records for cargo handling including more than 10 million tons of general cargo each of those years.
On Wednesday, James White, the director of the port, announced he would retire at the end of the year.
Multiple sources said Thursday that White had made commitments to Gov. Larry Hogan to expand and improve the tunnel. Those same sources said Rahn’s announcement and letter to Chao may have played a part in the timing of White’s decision to retire. He long had been a backer of the tunnel project.