When Gov. Wes Moore was searching for a new secretary of transportation, he didn’t have to look far. Paul Wiedefeld, who had recently served as general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ― which, according to CNN, operates the nation’s third largest heavy rail system and sixth largest bus system ― had left that position and was already working in Maryland’s private sector when Moore called.
His latest transition was indeed a homecoming for Wiedefeld, who ran the Maryland Aviation Administration from 2002 to 2005, then ran the Maryland Transit Authority from 2005 to 2009 before returning to the MAA from 2009 until early 2015. Soon thereafter, he landed at WMATA, an experience that gave him a fresh perspective as he joined MDOT.
What’s the latest on the rollout of MDOT’s $19.9 billion Draft Consolidated Transportation Program?
The General Assembly passed MDOT’s $20.5 billion fiscal 2023-2028 CTP this past spring. MDOT’s draft fiscal 2024-2029 CTP will be released Sept. 1.
Might an east-west Red Line Light Rail project to serve Baltimore City extend to Howard County?
The 2022 East-West Corridor Feasibility Study evaluated several potential alignment options and projected ridership for Ellicott City termini was low. While there is not sufficient demand to justify a premium transit investment at this time, the MTA will consider investments connecting bus service from Howard County that may grow ridership.
What’s the update on the Purple Line, which will connect Bethesda and New Carrollton via College Park?
Purple Line construction is progressing along the entire alignment, with 60 active construction sites that employ about 700 workers. The project is more than 50% complete with significant activity underway, including utility relocation work and replacement and upgrading of storm drain systems.
The building of multiple stations is underway. The team partnered with the University of Maryland to temporarily close Campus Drive over the summer in order to accomplish as much work as possible before students returned to campus in August. This work includes utility relocation, stormwater drainage, track installation and starting construction of the main campus stop, the Campus Drive-UMD Station.
The first light rail vehicles are expected to arrive to the main operations facility early next year.
What are the next road updates in the Howard-Anne Arundel Corridor?
In Howard County, we’ve been working on pedestrian safety projects on Route 1, including signals, crosswalks, sidewalks and a shared bike and pedestrian path in the Guilford Road area. We’ve also done intersection improvements at Route 108 and Centennial Lane, and we’re finishing up upgrades on Route 103 near Long Gate Shopping Center, including bike lanes and a sidewalk. We also have a number of resurfacing projects planned or underway.
In Anne Arundel County, we also have several improvement projects underway. They include resurfacing and installation of raised pavement markers on southbound I-97 between Route 450 and Route 178; patching and maintenance along I-97 from Severn Run to the Baltimore Beltway; repaving the interchange ramps at I-97 and Route 100; and a resurfacing project on Route 100 from Route 170 to the Howard County line that includes ramp resurfacing and guardrail installation.
We’re also working with the county on a Route 3 Corridor project to improve traffic operations, pedestrian access, bicycle connections and roadway safety. We hope to reach 30% design completion by next spring.
What can be done to alleviate congestion on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway?
The largest portion of the B-W Parkway in Maryland is maintained by the National Park Service, but projects and improvements we’re doing on the highway side ― while promoting MARC rail as an attractive alternative ― can help improve traffic flow throughout the Corridor.
Another [local project] is the interchange at the Parkway and Route 175, which we’re widening from four to six lanes, with a median, and adding bike and pedestrian features while reconfiguring the ramps at Route 295 to create signalized left turns at Route 175.
We’re also resurfacing ramps at the Parkway and the Baltimore Beltway.
What’s the update on bridge renovation efforts in the state?
Of the 2,567 bridges maintained by the State Highway Administration, 22 are classified as poorly rated. That means the bridge should be prioritized for preservation, rehabilitation or replacement. Of these, four are under construction and the remaining are in the design phase.
Overall, the SHA has more than 100 bridge replacement and major rehabilitation projects in design or construction. Maryland has among the fewest poorly rated bridges in the nation; in Anne Arundel County, a replacement project for the I-695/Route 170 bridge is funded for design; and in Howard, a project to replace the bridge deck at the I-95/Route 32 interchange also is funded for design.
What investments are being made to improve bus service in central Maryland?
The MTA is focused on making investments that improve the rider experience and increase access. In response to the tight labor market challenging transit agencies nationwide, the agency has undertaken aggressive recruitment to hire bus operators including job fairs, advertising, social media and doubling training classes.
The agency also has prioritized increasing bus and rail operator wages and benefits, and in June we announced an agreement to decrease the time it takes for bus and rail operators to achieve higher pay rates and advance to the top rate for their job. The new structure means operators will earn top rate after only three years with the agency. Efforts to reach full staffing levels is ongoing, but the agency has already seen improvements in overall service reliability.
In November 2021, MTA launched Fast Forward, a $43 million initiative to improve transit reliability, travel times and customer safety and access with the goal to enhance the passengers’ experience from door to door. Through this program, the agency has installed new bus shelters and implemented American Disabilities Act improvements to sidewalks in addition to launching dedicated bus lanes.
How can today’s Light Rail passenger numbers be improved? For instance, there were 537,641 just before the pandemic in February 2020, but this past June there were 327,644 boardings.
In July 2022, the MTA temporarily adjusted weekday Light Rail service to ensure Light Rail riders had a reliable schedule. MTA undertook an aggressive recruitment effort for operators and, in April 2023, the agency resumed regularly-scheduled service levels.
Since January 2023, Light Rail on-time performance has been more than 92% with a high of 95.8% in April 2023. The MTA will continue to promote those benefits. The agency is confident ridership for light rail will continue to increase.
With the upgrades to BWI Marshall’s A/B Connector and baggage handling system underway, what are the next projects planned for the airport?
The multiyear, $425 million Concourse A/B and baggage handling system project, the largest single capital project in BWI Marshall’s history, will transform the passenger experience and provide additional capacity for Southwest Airlines. The first steel support structures [in the main project] are now being installed. The program will also create new food and retail options, and new restrooms.
Our $55 million in restroom improvements will expand and enhance six sets of restrooms in the terminal. The first of the new restrooms is now open, with the remainder to be complete by the end of the year.
We’re also working with Southwest to build the carrier’s first maintenance facility in the northeast U.S. The hangar will accommodate three Boeing 737 aircraft, along with exterior apron space for eight more. We’ve handed over part of the site to Southwest so they can begin construction.
There are many other projects underway or coming soon, including upgrades to the airport’s central utility plant, airfield pavement reconstruction, the addition of two new jet fuel storage tanks and replacement of the hourly garage parking guidance system.
What is the status of the on-campus hotel project at BWI Marshall?
We’re continuing planning for a future C/D Connector that would include several elements. The passenger connector between the two concourses would include baggage handling improvements, a new air traffic control tower, office space, new food and retail concessions, and the in-airport hotel.
What are the biggest needs today at the Port of Baltimore?
The Port of Baltimore is the no. 1 port in the nation for farm and construction equipment, and we’ve handled more autos and light trucks than any other U.S. port for 12 consecutive years. Our roll-on/roll-off business is up 30% and that’s following a record year in 2022.
The Port continues to be very well-regarded in the industry as the top U.S. auto port, even as the entire maritime industry is still impacted by international semiconductor shortages. Our longshore workers, our position as the closest East Coast port to the Midwest and our modern infrastructure are key reasons we perform so well in the automobile category.
Going forward, we need to be creative and think outside the box to accommodate the increases we’re seeing in autos and roll-on/roll-off cargo.
What’s the latest on the reconstruction of the Howard Street Tunnel and how much will that improve shipping options to and from the Port?
This project is a game changer for the Port of Baltimore and for Maryland’s economy. Expanding the tunnel to accommodate double-stacked container rail cars will get the Port over a decadeslong hurdle.
The project is more than just the tunnel; it’s making improvements at 21 other locations between Baltimore and Philadelphia. CSX, as the owner of the tunnel, oversees the schedule. We expect construction here to begin in the coming months, with project completion targeted for 2026.
Double stacking will grow our container business by about 160,000 containers annually, allow double-stack service up and down the East Coast and, just as importantly, it will create about 6,550 construction jobs and an additional 7,300 jobs from the increased business.
We have a wonderful public-private partnership with Ports America Chesapeake. They’ve purchased and installed eight supersized cranes, and now they’re putting 15 fully-electric gantry cranes into service that are helping with overall terminal efficiencies. They’ve invested $166 million in our Seagirt Marine Terminal, where we’ve received a $15 million federal grant to build new rail tracks at Seagirt.
What is the biggest take-away from your experience at WMATA?
To focus on engagement. Bringing everyone to the table, from elected leaders and the business community to customers and employees. By engaging and listening to all stakeholders, we can move forward in accomplishing our goals together.
I also realized MDOT and WMATA need to work together more closely. Hundreds of thousands of Marylanders rely on WMATA transit services for their transportation needs every day. I see WMATA as one of the state’s transportation modes and I think we can better integrate it into our transportation network.
What do you consider the most positive aspects of transportation in Maryland today?
That we’re making great strides in equity, service and safety across all modes ― and that includes an emphasis to ensure that we’re providing access and options across the network for walkers and bicyclists, as well as transit riders, drivers and other users. We need that focus on a connected network and safety to lift our communities and achieve true mobility.
Equally important is our focus on dramatically reducing highway fatalities and injuries. Initiatives like our Pedestrian Action Safety Plan, the update of our Complete Streets policy, our statewide Vulnerable Roadway User Safety Assessment and our partnership as an Ally in Action in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy will help us achieve our only acceptable goal: zero traffic deaths.
Also, there’s untapped potential within our transportation system that we can use as a catalyst for economic growth and opportunities for all Marylanders. I’m excited to elevate these opportunities, like focusing on underutilized transit stations and developing them into unique and community-focused transit-oriented developments. This will uplift communities and connect people to life’s opportunities.