Maryland’s governor hasn’t given up on an ambitious plan to expand the size of the Howard Street Tunnel. He just may have to do it without the buy-in of the Class I railroad that owns it.
Gov. Larry Hogan said in an interview yesterday with WBAL-TV that he’s still got his sights on the $455 million expansion project, despite the fact that CSX backed out this week.
“I’m not giving up. We’re going to keep pushing. We’ll meet with CSX, we’ll meet with the secretary of transportation, and we’ll talk about it internally with our transportation group, and the Port Administration and see what kind of new plan we can come up with,” the governor said.
A governor’s office spokeswoman told Baltimore Fishbowl in a statement yesterday that Hogan’s administration “will continue to explore all ideas and pursue innovative options that will be beneficial to the Port, the City of Baltimore, and the entire state of Maryland.”
After years of planning, cutting cost estimates and state applications for federal assistance, CSX this week decided contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the effort wasn’t a sound investment.
“Given the operating changes that CSX’s new leadership team has made over the last several months, and upon an updated evaluation, we determined that the Howard Street Tunnel project proposal no longer justifies the level of investment required from CSX and our public partners at this time,” a statement from the company said.
The project would have entailed digging into the floor of the tunnel and raising its ceiling. Previous cost estimates were in the billions, but the governor’s office said last year that engineers had found a way to at least keep it in the hundreds of millions. The state and CSX were going to contribute $270 million combined, and officials had applied for a $155 million federal FASTLANE grant. (Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn asked to withdraw the application yesterday.)
According to some experts quoted in The Sun, it’s going to be a tall order to force CSX, a private firm, to help finance the project. There’s also little the government can do to punish the company for backing out.
Maryland’s members of Congress wrote a letter to CSX CEO Hunter Harrison yesterday asking why the company opted to jump ship. They also reportedly requested a meeting with CSX to see if something could be worked out.
The expansion of the tunnel would allow double-stacked rail cars to begin moving into and out of the Port of Baltimore, vastly increasing the port’s productivity. Baltimore is one of only a few port cities that’s been able to welcome mega-sized container ships let in via the widened Panama Canal, but hasn’t been able to take advantage of the rail-shipping potential of that development due to the relatively narrow size of the Howard Street Tunnel.
Hogan’s administration previously said the port would be able to handle 80,000 more containers per year with an expanded tunnel.