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Moore eyes Wiedefeld, former Washington metro chief, as transportation boss, sources say

Paul Wiedefeld, the former president and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), is the top candidate to be the Moore administration’s transportation secretary, sources say. (AP File Photo/Cliff Owen)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s next transportation secretary could be a familiar face.

Multiple sources familiar with the search say Paul Wiedefeld has emerged as a leading contender to head the Maryland Department of Transportation under Democratic Gov. Wes Moore.

Wiedefeld’s name rose to the top this week as lawmakers and other insiders await what will be one of Moore’s signature appointments. The former head of the state’s aviation administration and mass transit system also comes with his share of baggage, including an early resignation from running the Metro system in Washington, D.C.

A source familiar with the process said that while the vetting process is ongoing and an undisclosed number of candidates remain, Moore and his advisers “feel like they are close.”

If named to the position, Wiedefeld would lead an agency in transition that faces scrutiny for ongoing delays of the Purple Line, proposals to build a new span across the Chesapeake Bay, toll lane expansions of the Capital Beltway and a controversial concessions contract at BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport.

Wiedefeld is not unfamiliar with Maryland’s transportation agency.

From 2007-2009, he served as administrator of the Maryland Transit Authority. He also twice led the Maryland Aviation Administration, from 2002-2005 and again from 2009-2015.

Following the election of Republican Larry Hogan, Wiedefeld left and took over as general manager and chief executive officer of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Wiedefeld’s time there was marked by clashes with Hogan and his transportation secretary — the state sends millions to the Metro system — as well as concerns about how the third-largest subway system in the nation was run.

In 2022, Wiedefeld announced his retirement. He then left the agency 45 days early following the release of a scathing report that highlighted safety concerns at the Metro system.

Those concerns rose to the fore again earlier this year when a federal oversight panel again raised concerns about safety and lack of training at Metro, some of which dated back to Wiedefeld’s time leading the agency.

In the meantime, Jim Ports, who held the post under Republican Hogan, continues to serve as transportation secretary under Moore.

The temporary retention of Ports is unusual. Typically most secretaries depart as a new governor is sworn in.

David Turner, a spokesman for Moore, said Ports continues in the position to promote “an orderly transition” at the agency.

Holding Ports over in the position as head of one of the largest Cabinet departments in the state budget is another indication of a delay in Moore naming his transportation secretary.

Wiedefeld — while not named publicly — appears to be the top candidate on Moore’s list. Tapping him for the top transportation job would signal a shift in priorities under a new governor.

Hogan, with his selection of Pete Rahn as transportation chief, sent a clear message that he would focus more on roads and highways than mass transit.

Moore has already signaled an approach meant to help those living in impoverished areas access job centers that could then help raise their standard of living.

The new governor has made transportation one of his top priorities. He has included additional funding for transportation projects and said he would give his new secretary some flexibility.

“We know coming in there is not a shortage of transportation needs and transportation opportunities and challenges that we have to face,” Moore said Friday during a budget briefing with reporters. “You know, we know even just in recent days, we’ve seen how some of those challenges are very real and how they exist. And so we believe this down payment is important because a we want to let the transportation secretary know that there will be resources for us to be able to make some of the bold initiatives, and that includes things like fixing roads and bridges that we know have to be done but also making real investments in mass transit to include things like this bus transit in the Baltimore region.”

In his budget announced Friday, Moore earmarked $500 million in cash for the department. The money would go to as yet undesignated projects.

One of Moore’s top priorities is the resurrection of an east-west transportation line in Baltimore City.

In 2015, Hogan canceled the Red Line, a 14.1 mile light-rail project that would have connected Bayview Hospital in east Baltimore to Woodlawn in western Baltimore County. Hogan at the time called it a “boondoggle,” but Moore sees such a project as essential to connecting workers to jobs.

Moore said the $500 million in cash is an “important message that needs to be sent to the federal government, that we are going to be core partners. And as they’re looking to make their investments and there’s still significant capital that’s coming out of the (federal) Department Of Transportation, we want them to know that Maryland is the best partner they could have in terms of making these things work. And you’re gonna have a state government that’s going to serve as a partner.”

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