Md. seeks high-speed rail money that Florida spurned

State wants $450 million for Northeast Corridor projects

March 15, 2011|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

State transportation officials are trying to make sure Florida's loss is Maryland's gain as they prepare applications for about $450 million in federal high-speed rail grants for two projects along the Amtrak Northeast Corridor.

Maryland is seeking a cut of the $2.4 billion Florida Gov. Rick Scott spurned when he pulled the plug on that state's plans for a high-speed rail corridor between Tampa and Orlando. Last week U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood formally took the money back and made it available to other states with high-speed rail projects — including those along the Northeast Corridor.

Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan said the state is preparing one application for $250 million to complete construction of a new rail station and an added track at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Maryland is also seeking $200 million for the planning and engineering of three replacement bridges on the Amtrak line over the Bush, Gunpowder and Susquehanna rivers, Cahalan said.

LaHood set an early April deadline for receiving the applications.

Cahalan said the invitation to bid specifies that the money must go to projects that can be completed by 2017. The BWI station construction and the planning of the three bridges can be completed within that time frame, he said.

Cahalan said another project high on the state's wish list is the replacement of the century-old B&P Tunnel leading in to Penn Station.

Maryland has previously received a $10 million grant for planning for the new BWI station project, which is expected to include the addition of a fourth track along a 9-mile stretch and additional platform space. The station has been undergoing platform and elevator work financed by the federal stimulus program.

Cahalan put the total cost of the station reconstruction at $260 million.

Construction of the three bridges is expected to ultimately cost about $2.1 billion. They are owned by Amtrak, and Maryland would partner with the railroad in seeking the federal funds.

Cahalan described the bridges, which are also used by the MARC Penn Line, as safe and functional but "pretty advanced in their years." All were built in the early 1900s, with the Susquehanna Bridge dating to 1906.

Cahalan said all three bridges now carry two tracks. He said officials want to expand their capacity to three to four tracks.

Maryland will be competing with other projects across the country for the money Florida turned down.

"We believe we have as good a shot as anybody else in the country that is going for this cash," Cahalan said.

Scott, a newly elected Republican, backed out of the project planned by his predecessor, Charlie Crist, expressing concern about its eventual cost to Florida taxpayers. He joined two other new Republican governors, Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich, who have turned down money from the Obama administration's high-speed rail initiative since taking office.

LaHood's designation of the Northeast Corridor as eligible for the high-speed rail funding was lauded Tuesday by five Democratic U.S. senators from Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The senators said the nation's most heavily traveled rail corridor has so far received only 2 percent of the money allocated by the administration.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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