O'Malley to announce $1.5 billion for Baltimore-area transportation projects

Public-private partnership possible for Red Line; weekend MARC service to Washington to begin Dec. 7

September 04, 2013|By Kevin Rector and Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley plans to announce $1.5 billion in new state funding for the Baltimore Red Line and more than a dozen other transportation projects in the area Wednesday, officials said, outlining for the first time how the state's gas tax increase will be tapped to improve local infrastructure and mass transit here.

O'Malley also plans to discuss the state's interest in attracting public-private partnerships to help fund the Red Line project, and a Dec. 7 start date for weekend MARC train service between Baltimore and Washington, which has never been offered before.

In a statement, O'Malley described the transportation spending as "making the modern investments a modern economy requires" to educate, innovate and rebuild the state.

The state Department of Transportation said the funding, which O'Malley is scheduled to announce alongside Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials at the West Baltimore MARC station Wednesday afternoon, would create about 13,000 jobs and ease congestion as busy arteries are widened or improved and mass transit systems are prioritized.

Rawlings-Blake said the new funding "says that the state is serious about being a partner with Baltimore" to improve connections between transportation options.

"They're putting their money where their mouth is," she said. "They're recognizing that for the state to be strong, Baltimore has to be strong, and it has to be strong as a connected city."

The gas tax, approved earlier this year by the Maryland General Assembly, is expected to dramatically change the environment for transportation construction in the state, reversing a trend of diminished ability — and ambition — when it comes to the state's taking on major projects.

The Democratic legislature approved the higher gas tax and new fees — expected to provide $4.4 billion for transportation projects over six years — over the objections of Republicans who viewed the hikes as too steep for consumers.

Transportation Secretary James Smith said the new transportation funding makes clear the benefits of the gas tax.

"What's happening is people are actually seeing what they're getting for this money. There is a direct correlation between the projects that are being announced and the money that is being raised," he said. "And I do think people have a kinder attitude when they don't think the money is going down a black hole."

Sen. James "Ed" DeGrange, who chairs the Senate transportation budget subcommittee, agreed.

"That's what we all wanted to see when they were proposing the increase in the tax: 'What are we going to get for those dollars?'" the Anne Arundel County Democrat said. "And I guess this is the effect of it. A lot of those projects are coming off the back burner."

In all, 17 projects are to be announced for the city and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

Plans include $20 million for streetscape improvements in downtown Hampstead in Carroll; $43 million to improve intersections along access routes to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford; $29 million to rebuild the interchange between Route 175 and Route 295 at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel; $48 million to widen Route 29 in Howard; and $86 million to widen Interstate 695 between Route 40 and Route 144 in Baltimore County.

Another $246 million is to be spent on replacing the Baltimore Metro's fleet of 100 railcars and 15 miles of signaling systems, and $12 million is to go toward the operating costs of the Charm City Circulator.

More than a third of the new funding — $519 million — is to be spent on construction on the Baltimore Red Line, a $2.6 billion, 14.1-mile light rail project to cut through the heart of downtown Baltimore, connecting Woodlawn in the west with Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center to the east. In May, officials announced $170 million for the project's right-of-way acquisition and final design.

The state is to begin considering proposals from private industry for certain aspects of the project, including track and signal operations and maintenance of some facilities and assets, such as railcars.

Officials said they do not plan to seek public-private partnerships to pay for the Red Line's major infrastructure, such as tunnels, underground stations and stormwater management systems.

Hundreds of contractors have expressed interest in bidding on the project in recent months. The Federal Transit Administration, which is expected to foot part of the transit project bill under its New Starts program, encourages public-private partnerships.

The state has said it plans to use a public-private partnership to build the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

Smith said the level of public-private partnership for the Red Line has not been determined, but it will be a much smaller percentage of the project than the Purple Line because the underground system planned for Baltimore is more complex.

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