Port of Baltimore seeks grant to expand terminal, widen channel

Federal, state money would pay for $29 million upgrade at Seagirt, Fairfield

July 02, 2013|By Candy Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

The port of Baltimore has applied for a $10 million federal grant — to be matched by a state grant of $19.5 million — to expand rail access and export storage at Fairfield Marine Terminal and to widen the access channel to Seagirt Marine Terminal.

The proposal, which Maryland Port Administration commissioners approved Tuesday, would tap into a $473.8 million pot called TIGER 5 funds that the U.S. Department of Transportation will distribute this fall.

Plans include dredging the approach to Seagirt to handle the widest ships in the world and using some of that material to fill a World War II-vintage basin at Fairfield to create 7.6 acres for car and heavy equipment storage. The rail spur that serves Fairfield would be extended to the waterfront to serve the storage area.

Jim Dwyer, the port administration's deputy planning director, said that work at Seagirt could begin this fall and at Fairfield in May if Baltimore gets the money.

State Transportation Secretary Jim Smith said the project would keep Baltimore's port at the top of the highly competitive East Coast market.

"We're in good shape," Smith said. "The application is well done and puts us in the game."

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program is used by the U.S. Department of Transportation to invest in high-impact road, rail, transit and port projects. The TIGER grants are one of the few infrastructure improvement programs available to ports that do not involve national security upgrades. This round of grants has attracted 568 applications totaling $9 billion in requests.

Dwyer said $120 million has been set aside for rural initiatives, leaving about $353 million available.

The Seagirt project would provide better access for large ships using the Suez and the soon-to-be finished Panama Canal expansion project and enhance the output of the terminal, which recently received a $100 million upgrade that included a 50-foot-deep berth and four huge cranes.

"The ships are getting a little bit longer and a whole lot wider. There's too many doglegs on the approach," he said.

The port was unsuccessful in two earlier bids for TIGER funds to upgrade the Masonville Marine Terminal, requiring the state to pay for the entire project.

But Baltimore has two things working in its favor this time, Dwyer said: The port has most permits and environmental reviews in hand; and the state's guaranteed match is more than double the 25 percent minimum required by the federal government.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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