ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Wes Moore Tuesday tapped Paul Wiedefeld to lead the state’s transportation department, calling him “the transportation leader we need in this moment.”
Wiedefeld emerged as a leading contender for the job last week. The Baltimore native and Towson resident is not unfamiliar with the state or its transportation agency. The governor portrayed his new appointee as an agent of change.
“It is increasingly clear that we need real change if our transportation system is going to live up to its true potential,” said Moore. “When we talk about real changes it means we are actually going to prioritize getting things done on time and on budget. It means projects that are going to focus on the things we’ve been speaking about for over a year, projects that are going to center in on equity both for who is building it and who can benefit from it.”
Moore has made transportation and resurrecting the Red Line light-rail project top priorities during the campaign and his young administration. Wiedefeld becomes Moore’s signature appointment and a standard bearer for those efforts.
“Paul’s a pro,” said Moore. “He’s a transportation pro. In short, Paul is the transportation leader that we need in this moment.”
The former head of the Maryland Aviation Administration and Maryland’s mass transit system also comes with his share of baggage, largely from his time at the Washington agency.
Wiedefeld, if confirmed by the Senate, takes over an agency in transition. Former Gov. Larry Hogan focused on roads and bridges. Moore wants to flip the script, looking more at public transportation through a lens of social equity and ensuring access to better-paying jobs.
Using that measure, Moore said the state’s transportation system “has been consistently failing to meet the needs of everyday Marylanders and growing a measure of economic mobility that we all expect and that we all hope for from our state.”
The department also must deal with 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.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, told reporters Tuesday morning before Moore’s announcement that it was important to name a secretary that understood the state and the department.
“It’s a unique agency. It’s one of the few states that has all of our transportation modes all under one umbrella” said Ferguson. “And so it is a very complicated in depth agency. And so what I would hope to see is somebody that has experience, ideally in Maryland, but that understands the multimodal approach that our department transportation has.”
“I hope they plan on working very closely with the legislature because there’s a lot of money involved,” said Ferguson.
From 2007-2009, Wiedefeld 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 Hogan, Wiedefeld 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 surfaced again earlier this year when a federal oversight panel raised concerns about safety and lack of training at Metro, some of which dated back to Wiedefeld’s time leading the agency.
Moore, however, touted Wiedefeld’s record saying the metro system “improved reliability, tackled massive safety challenges and weathered the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We know, when we think about the future for the things we are looking to get done, for the type of speed we want to move one, for the lens we want to evaluate every single transportation project that we have whether it’s dealing with roads and bridges or whether it’s a renewed focus on mass transit, we believe firmly and deeply that Paul is a person that is going to help lead us there,” said Moore, when asked directly about Wiedefeld’s time at the District metro system. “We’ve done our diligence and out vetting and we’re excited to move forward with Paul as our secretary.”
Wiedefeld, as transportation secretary, would return to the Washington Metro board that once hired him to lead that agency.
In his budget announced Friday, Moore earmarked $500 million in cash for the department. The money would go to as yet undesignated projects.