The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Moore picks former Metro chief as Maryland transportation secretary

Paul J. Wiedefeld would get a seat on the Metro board, putting him back in leadership at the agency he resigned from eight months ago

Paul J. Wiedefeld speaks at a news conference Tuesday in Annapolis alongside Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D). (Brian Witte/AP)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has selected former Metro general manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who led the nation’s third-largest transit agency for six years before resigning in the spring, to serve as Maryland’s secretary of transportation.

Wiedefeld is one of the highest-profile figures to be nominated by Moore, who took office a week ago and has been assembling his Cabinet. If approved by the state Senate, Wiedefeld will assume leadership of a department that Moore has identified as critical to his campaign promise to “leave no one behind,” describing transportation as a key component to providing equity.

“Paul is the transportation leader that we need in this moment, and I’m thrilled that he has said yes,” Moore (D) said while standing with Wiedefeld and supporters as he announced his selection. “Paul’s a pro. He’s a transportation pro.”

Wiedefeld would immediately confront a variety of road and transit projects with expensive price tags that face uncertain paths forward. The selection also creates an unusual turnabout for Wiedefeld, who, under Maryland law, automatically would become one of Metro’s eight board members.

Wiedefeld had served as Metro’s general manager beginning in late 2015 until he and the transit agency’s chief operating officer resigned eight months ago — two months before Wiedefeld was scheduled to retire — after a training and testing lapse surfaced. The job would be a return to Maryland government for Wiedefeld, who previously served as head of the Maryland Transit Administration and the Maryland Aviation Administration, mostly under Democratic governors.

Moore, who unveiled his budget last week, allocated $500 million in additional funding to unspecified transportation projects, saying he wanted to allow his new transportation secretary to prioritize the needs. He said Tuesday that under Wiedefeld’s leadership, both Metro and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport saw improvements while tackling major challenges.

Metro's Wiedefeld steps down one day after agency announces training lapses

Wiedefeld said he looks forward to reaching the governor’s “goals on social equity, environmental protection and sustainable communities. And most importantly, a department that enhances the economic opportunities for all the citizens of Maryland.”

Wiedefeld would help decide how, or whether, to pursue a plan put forth by Moore’s predecessor, Larry Hogan (R), to expand Interstate 270 and part of the Capital Beltway with express toll lanes that are built, financed and operated by the private sector. The Hogan administration had planned to clinch approval for a 50-year contract before he left office but was delayed by a longer-than-expected environmental approval process.

Moore has publicly criticized the proposed toll lanes as too expensive for most motorists and said the state should consider other ways to alleviate traffic congestion, such as by using highway shoulders and expanding MARC commuter rail service.

Wiedefeld also would oversee construction of the light-rail Purple Line through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which is $1.46 billion over budget, more than 4½ years behind schedule and facing additional delays that could push its opening to mid-2027, according to a recent project report. Unless project officials find a way to accelerate work, the originally planned five years of construction would span almost a decade.

The line will be separate from Metro but will connect to four Metro stations, as well as Amtrak and MARC commuter rail stations. It will be the first direct suburb-to-suburb rail line in the Washington region.

Moore has also promised to resurrect Baltimore’s Red Line, an east-west transit project killed by Hogan, although his team has acknowledged that basic questions remain about what the reborn project could look like — including whether it will be light rail.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) declined to comment on the governor’s selection early Tuesday but said he hopes the new secretary will work closely with the General Assembly.

“Even though it is a lot of resources, it is still limited resources,” Ferguson said. “And so while $500 million sounds like a lot of money, in transportation programming it can go in the blink of an eye. … We’ve got to think about, are we talking one big project or are we talking, you know, multiple projects with different modes? And so that’s going to be a key decision early on.”

As Maryland’s aviation chief, Wiedefeld oversaw BWI, including from 2002 to 2005, when it was one of the fastest-growing airports in the country. At the same time, airports were adjusting to the implementation of new Transportation Security Administration checkpoints after 9/11.

Wiedefeld managed the completion of a five-year, $1.8 billion expansion at BWI, including construction of a 26-gate terminal for Southwest Airlines, a parking garage and an off-site rental-car facility.

As the state’s transit administrator from 2007 to 2009, he oversaw MARC commuter rail and Baltimore’s light-rail subway and bus systems. He then returned to the aviation administration until 2015, when Hogan terminated him seven months after taking office.

Metro’s general manager to retire after six years as top executive

Wiedefeld also has worked at the Parsons Brinckerhoff engineering consulting firm as a vice president and head of its aviation consulting practice.

Officials with the Greater Washington Partnership, an alliance of many of the region’s largest companies, said they are encouraged by Wiedefeld’s appointment while pushing to enhance the region’s infrastructure and strengthen Maryland’s transportation system. GWP chief executive Kathy Hollinger said Wiedefeld led Metro during some of the organization’s most challenging times.

“There has been tremendous collaborative momentum with our Maryland leaders as we work to create a safe and reliable transportation network in our region,” Hollinger said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Mr. Wiedefeld in his new capacity.”

With a former chief executive of Metro joining its board, few others on the panel would have as much knowledge of the transit agency’s inner workings as Wiedefeld, but it also would create an unusual working arrangement between Randy Clarke — the general manager hired to replace Wiedefeld — and Wiedefeld, who would become one of Clarke’s bosses.

The Metro training lapse that preceded Wiedefeld’s departure prompted the transit agency to pull train operators out of service for recertification, which created a shortage that led to longer train waits. The disruption added frustration for riders, regional businesses and elected leaders amid a rail car shortage that began in October 2021 after Metro’s 7000-series cars were ordered out of service for a wheel defect.

A federal investigation showed Metro was aware of unsafe wheel movements in the cars for years but had not fully addressed the problem or adequately alerted Metrorail’s regulatory commission. The problems, including other safety violations, led D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to publicly question Metro’s management.

Wiedefeld announced his resignation on the same day Bowser made her comments.

The fall was swift for Wiedefeld, who had been hired to stabilize Metro, transform its safety culture and improve its record with regulators after — under Wiedefeld’s predecessor — a passenger died of smoke inhalation from a 2015 track fire on a stalled train.

As he was hired, Wiedefeld said his goal was to prioritize safety over service, a mission he underlined four months later as he shut down the rail system for 24 hours so inspectors could search for deteriorating power cables. In 2016, he launched a $110 million-plus maintenance blitz that accelerated three years of track repairs and equipment replacement into a year, a move that brought commute disruptions Wiedefeld defended as a price that had to be paid for safety.

Leaders credit Wiedefeld with overhauling Metro’s worn-out infrastructure while setting the stage for Metro to run more-reliable and safer service when its fleet is restored. In November, Wiedefeld was among the dignitaries recognized at a ceremony to open the $3 billion Silver Line extension.

Luz Lazo contributed to this report.