There’s no doubt that polarization dominates today’s headlines. Despite the focus on contentiousness, however, the fact remains that, even today, big things happen when we work together.
President Joe Biden visited Baltimore in late January to kick off the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel replacement project for the city’s Howard Street Tunnel. This infrastructure initiative, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, may generate thousands of job opportunities in support of the state.
From projects specific to Baltimore to ones that will benefit Maryland more broadly, there are many examples of what we can achieve by collaborating.
For instance, on June 8, the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore announced the launch of a capital campaign in honor of its almost 200-year anniversary. The B&O Railroad’s story started and remains in Baltimore. The museum, looking to raise funds from private and public entities, received $5 million from CSX Railroad to support the campaign, which hopes to raise nearly $30 million. Through this donation, the B&O plans to restore the South Car Works Building and build the CSX Bicentennial Garden — welcoming visitors from the surrounding community and elsewhere.
Gov. Wes Moore attended the event at the museum and recognized the value of private investment in the state’s landmark institution.
“Today, we celebrate another great partnership between CSX and the state of Maryland,” the governor said, while also announcing the state was contributing $3 million to the effort. “This transformation will better connect the museum with the neighboring communities, expand workforce training opportunities on campus, make better use of open space and remodel the South Car Works Building as the new entryway to the museum.”
A project that will impact the state and beyond is the expansion of Baltimore’s Howard Street Tunnel. To make the tunnel improvements a reality, investment from private and public stakeholders was integral. Shortly before breaking ground on the expansion effort in 2021, former Gov. Larry Hogan recognized that the project “will have a tremendous impact on Maryland’s economy, improve the flow of goods and generate thousands of jobs in the Baltimore region.” It’s not hard to see why he was so effusive in his praise.
Bill Doyle, former executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, has explained that, when completed, the Howard Street Tunnel will streamline and supercharge commerce throughout Maryland, creating thousands of jobs and spurring a dramatic increase in activity at the Port of Baltimore.
Because Baltimore is the farthest-inland post-Panamax (referring to ships whose transit required Panama Canal expansion) port on the Eastern Seaboard, import/export goods can be shipped within eight hours to one-third of the nation’s population. All told, estimates suggest the project will lead to an additional 160,000 containers per year at the port — additional business that will create roughly 7,500 new jobs. The project will also make freight rail more competitive relative to trucks by removing all barriers to double-stacked trains, which nearly doubles the capacity of trains navigating the Port of Baltimore — a much more sustainable and efficient way to move freight.
Although very different overall, the B&O’s capital campaign and the Howard Street Tunnel have a major element in common: Neither would have been possible without collaboration and private partnership with CSX — the railway owner and a key partner for the Port of Baltimore for nearly 150 years.
Gov. Moore noted, “The partnership between the state of Maryland, city of Baltimore and the railroad continues today on important projects like the $466 million Howard Street Tunnel expansion project.”
The tunnel project is a massive undertaking that required cooperation among all stakeholders to cover the nearly $500 million cost. That’s no small feat, and it deserves recognition on the part of stakeholders across the spectrum, given its imminent, positive impact on the city we call home.
Acrimony can be hard to avoid. As a member of the Maryland Port Commission, I am heartened to see the good that can be done when stakeholders look over the horizon and work together to realize a common goal. It’s not always easy to make progress during times like these, but stories such as the B&O Museum’s restoration and the Howard Street Tunnel show it can be done.
Thanks to cool heads, clear vision and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment across the public and private sectors, the goal is within reach. There’s more work to be done, and construction won’t happen overnight. But Baltimore and all of Maryland have reason to be enthusiastic about these important and impactful projects. What’s more, we should welcome and applaud examples of private-public cooperation and co-investment when we see them.
Ed McDonald is a commissioner at the Maryland Port Administration.