Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) met with top Trump administration officials Wednesday in a bid to advance state interests in transportation, health care and housing.
Among the transportation priorities outlined on a list obtained by The Washington Post are a new American Legion Bridge over the Potomac in Montgomery County, widening Interstate 81 in Western Maryland from four lanes to six, and roadway improvements to increase access to the Port Covington development in South Baltimore.
And the list prioritizes a futuristic “superconducting magnetic levitation train system,” commonly called maglev, between Washington and Baltimore over more prosaic concerns, such as speedier buses through the Interstate 270 corridor.
Missing from Hogan’s list, which was given to the National Governors Association and passed along to President Trump’s team, were the Washington region’s sagging Metro system, the Purple Line light-rail project connecting Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and the Corridor Cities Transitway, a bus rapid-transit project in Montgomery.
“In terms of the regional conversation about priorities, I think most Montgomery County leaders would think of those as being more important than the American Legion Bridge at this point,” Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery) said. Given heavy congestion on I-270, the 15-mile Transitway project could make a major difference in people’s lives, he said.
The list was obtained by Frick through a public-records request, and he shared it with The Post.
Frick said he had read about the existence of Hogan’s priority list in a Post article, which noted that it had not been made public. Frick said he informally asked Hogan’s staff for a copy but didn’t hear back, and then wrote a letter asking for a copy, with the same result. This month he filed a Public Information Act request seeking the list, and he received it Wednesday.
“I was extremely disappointed that I had to go to these lengths to obtain an existing document that had already been shared outside state government. The legislature is supposed to be a partner in governing the state, and we’re not always treated that way,” Frick said.
As for the content of the list itself, “I think there’s pretty glaring omissions in terms of transit,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn deferred comment to the governor. Spokesmen for Hogan did not respond to requests for comment.
On Tuesday, before the meetings in Washington, a Hogan spokeswoman said the governor was scheduled to meet with top administration officials, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
Hogan’s list is indeed heavy on megaprojects and light on transit. In addition to the American Legion Bridge and I-81 project, it also includes “reconstruction of the 122-year-old Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore and modification of nine overhead bridges to create a double-stack rail route to the Port of Baltimore and along the I-95 entire rail corridor.”
The document says that the tunnel and bridges project is “nationally significant” and that 70 percent of the public benefits will be outside the state of Maryland. It says the project is the state’s top priority for a federal FASTLANE grant of $155 million. According to the document, $145 million of the cost would be borne by CSX railroad and $145 million by the state.
Replacement of the American Legion Bridge, the bane of commuters on I-495, is one of five priorities. “Originally built in 1963, the existing structure, which consists of four lanes plus auxiliary lanes in each direction, does not meet current and future demand,” the document says. It offers no proposed federal budget and says contributions from Maryland and Virginia are “TBD.”
Last summer, elected officials in Virginia pointed to the bridge as a major regional priority. At the time, Rahn said the bridge was “inadequate” and Maryland officials were working on how to improve it. “None of this is fast. It takes time to go through all of the processes with environmental documents,” Rahn was quoted as saying then.
That raises an important question about Hogan’s list, and how it fits in with Trump’s infrastructure plans. Trump administration officials have put a premium on projects that can move quickly and that can benefit from public-private partnerships. The bridge replacement is very early in the planning stage, as is the maglev project.
Other Hogan projects, such as the Howard Street Tunnel, fit nicely with Trump’s emphasis on public-private partnerships and projects that boost the national economy, not just make a regional splash.
The “Access I-95” roadway improvements would “increase access to the Port Covington development in South Baltimore,” resulting in “significant economic activity in Baltimore City,” according to Hogan’s list. The state hopes for a $78.8 million FASTLANE grant, and would rely on contributions from the city of Baltimore and the developer, Sagamore, and $33 million from the state.
On the maglev project, the list notes that a private developer is proposing to build and operate the system, which “will operate at 311 mph and take only 15 minutes to travel between” the District and Baltimore. It would include a stop at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The developer, Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail, “would eventually like to extend the system to New York City.”
Finding the needed right of way remains a major issue, as is coming up with the $10 billion-plus backers say is needed for the first, Washington-to-Baltimore leg.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.