Photos by Bill McAllen
Public and private sector leaders came together November 29 to break ground on the $466 million Howard Street Tunnel expansion project, which will reconstruct the 126-year-old freight rail tunnel to accommodate double-stacked container trains to and from the Port of Baltimore.
“There is no minimizing how big this is for the Port of Baltimore,” said William P. Doyle, Executive Director of the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA). “For decades, the Port of Baltimore has been limited by the lack of double-stack rail. Those days are over. Working together with CSX, the Howard Street Tunnel expansion project will increase our business by about 160,000 containers annually and generate more than 14,000 jobs. It will also reduce fuel consumption and generate fewer emissions, which makes it a real economic and environmental win-win!”
The event was led by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Joining him at the groundbreaking were Doyle; CSX President and CEO Jim Foote; Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Deputy Administrator Amit Bose; U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin; then-MDOT Secretary Greg Slater; and Scott Cowan, President of ILA Local 333.
“Today, as we kick off reconstruction of this Howard Street Tunnel, we are proving once again that investing in infrastructure is critical to our state and national economies and to the lives of everyday Marylanders and Americans,” said Gov. Hogan. “This is a continuation of our concerted efforts to make the Port of Baltimore much more competitive with other ports for the extremely sought-after containerized cargo market. It is an absolute game changer, not just for Maryland, but for the entire region.”
The project consists of vertical clearance improvements at the Howard Street Tunnel and at 21 other locations between Baltimore and Philadelphia to allow double stacking, where two shipping containers are stacked and transported on top of each other.
The Howard Street Tunnel, owned by CSX, will be reconstructed to provide an additional 18 inches of clearance. Three additional bridges in Baltimore will also require superstructure work: the North Avenue bridge will be modified, and the Guilford Avenue and Harford Road bridges will be replaced. Other locations in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania will require only track lowering beneath the structures.
“Expansion of the Howard Street Tunnel has been a goal for decades because we know what it means for jobs and economic growth. Today, it’s becoming a reality because of the leadership of Gov. Hogan and the hard work, vision and collaboration of all the partners — MDOT, CSX, U.S. Department of Transportation, and Baltimore,” said Slater. “Freight rail is an essential link in the nation’s supply chain. This investment strengthens that link for generations to come and positions the Port of Baltimore as the primary hub for the East Coast and a major conduit for goods moving across America.”
With its deep container berths and supersized cranes, including four new mega-cranes that arrived in September, the Port of Baltimore is among only a few East Coast ports that can accommodate some of the largest container ships in the world. Double-stack capabilities will allow the Port to accommodate expected container growth in future years. Double stacking will also provide a more cost-effective way to transport freight by rail compared to trucks, reducing congestion along the I-95 corridor and delivering environmental benefits such as fewer emissions. It has been estimated that double-stacking containers will reduce fuel consumption by about 137 million gallons.
Public-Private Partnership Made Project Possible
“CSX is proud to officially break ground on the Howard Street Tunnel project and move forward on an initiative made possible by the collaboration between state, Port and federal partners,” said Foote. “This project will modernize our rail infrastructure in this key corridor and help improve freight transportation, increase freight rail capacity, and further intermodal connectivity between the markets we serve. It will enhance rail’s competitiveness with trucks, providing customers with a sustainable alternative, and remove more traffic from the highways.”
For years, reconstruction of the Howard Street Tunnel to accommodate double-stack trains was estimated to cost between $1 billion and $4 billion, with significant disruption to surrounding communities. By utilizing advances in construction technology, CSX and the State of Maryland have determined it is possible to provide double-stack clearance for significantly less money and minimal impact to communities.
Now, the project has become an outstanding example of a public-private partnership between the State of Maryland, Federal Railroad Administration and CSX. Its current $466 million cost includes $202.5 million from the state, $125 million in a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant, $113 million from CSX, $22.5 million from Pennsylvania, and $3 million in federal highway formula funding.
“FRA is eager to see the U.S. Department of Transportation’s INFRA funding utilized to enhance productivity at the Port of Baltimore, grow local economies and create job opportunities,” said Bose. “The Biden administration is committed to modernizing infrastructure, and with the generational investment included in the bipartisan infrastructure law, we are poised to make passenger and freight networks safer, more resilient and more sustainable across America.”
At the November 29 event, Hogan, Foote and Bose also signed two agreements that commit all parties to this important project: the Cooperative Agreement between FRA and MDOT is required to officially obligate the $125 million INFRA grant to the State and outline the federal policies and procedures that must be followed throughout the project. There is also a Subrecipient and Project Agreement between MDOT, MDOT MPA and CSX, which flows down the federal policies and procedures to CSX and officially obligates the State of Maryland funding to CSX, outlines the procedures CSX must follow to seek reimbursement from the State and FRA, and commits CSX’s funding share.
Following the agreement signings, CSX will be able to begin construction.