Feds award $125M to help expand Howard Street Tunnel, which Hogan says is enough to proceed

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An archived image of the tunnel at Camden Station, Courtesy Library of Congress

After previously being turned down, the state has gotten its wish for federal assistance to expand the berth for trains in the Howard Street Tunnel, eventually allowing double-stacked train cars to travel to and from the Port of Baltimore.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $125 million INFRA, or Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, grant to Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday afternoon. The state will combine the federal dollars with its own contribution of $147 million, as well as freight shipping company CSX’s contribution of $91 million.

But a shortfall remains, based on the latest announcement. The state had applied for $228 million in federal aid in March to cover roughly half of the estimated $466 million cost. It’s unclear where the remainder of the funds would come from.

But Hogan said in a statement that what the feds have committed is sufficient to move forward.

“For years, our administration has pursued funding for this critical project, and after a number of roadblocks, we are finally able to move forward on reconstruction,” he said in a statement. “This grant will help us to break a coast-wide bottleneck, further bolstering our economic success at the Port of Baltimore and across the state.”

CSX said in a statement, “we congratulate Maryland on this award and will continue to work with them to move it forward.”

The project entails “notching” the ceiling and lowering the floor of the existing tunnel, which opened to traffic in 1895 but is now too short to accommodate stacked cargo containers. The expansion is still a considerably less expensive alternative to replacing it outright, which has been previously estimated to cost between $1 billion and $3 billion.

The state and CSX, which owns the tunnel, first applied for federal assistance in 2016 but were turned down. In 2017, Maryland’s Department of Transportation applied again, but CSX backed out of the partnership. The company called its retreat a “business decision,” and said the project “no longer justifies the level of investment required from CSX and our public partners at this time.”

Under pressure from elected leaders, the Florida-based railroad recommitted to the project this past December, albeit while lowering its offered contribution from $145 million to $91 million.

If and when the expansion effort is completed, the port will be able to take advantage of full freight shipping capacity to move containers from mega-sized container ships from overseas. More of those have been able to reach Baltimore thanks to the widening of the Panama Canal in 2016.

The Maryland Port Administration and private operator Ports America Chesapeake have already spent millions deepening the berth of the Seagirt Marine Terminal, and are now in the process of doing the same for another section to allow two mega-sized container ships to dock simultaneously.

The port has already been operating at an efficient clip in recent years. It recently broke a 44-year-old record by moving some 43 million tons of cargo combined between its public and private terminals.

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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