Gov. Moore picks transit veteran to lead transportation agency

Published on: January 24, 2023 4:44 PM EST|Updated on: January 25, 2023 1:45 PM EST

Paul Wiedefeld is Gov. Wes Moore's nominee for secretary of transportation. Moore announced his pick during a State House news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.
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Maryland Gov. Wes Moore announced his long-awaited decision on the person who will guide the state’s transportation projects, picking the former head of the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and the D.C. Metro system to be transportation secretary.

Paul J. Wiedefeld, who has decades of experience in transportation, was the Democratic governor’s pick for the high-profile job in the new administration.

Moore and Wiedefeld will face numerous difficult decisions on thorny projects, including completing the long-delayed Purple Line Metro extension in the D.C. suburbs; deciding whether to continue former Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to address traffic on some suburban D.C. highways with toll lanes; and fulfilling Moore’s campaign promise to revive the proposed Red Line, an east-west transit project in Baltimore.

During a news conference at the State House, neither Moore nor Wiedefeld offered insights into how they’ll handle those decisions. The governor said he’d work “in partnership” with his new transportation secretary, state lawmakers, local officials and stakeholders.

Asked about priorities, Moore answered: “The priority is that as a state, we’re going to get busy” on addressing highway congestion and improving mass transit in Baltimore.

Wiedefeld said he envisions the Maryland Department of Transportation as one that “works in partnership and in transparency with the communities we are here to serve, a department that delivers services and facilities to meet your goals of social equity, environmental protection and sustainable communities; and most of importantly, a department that enhances the economic opportunities for all the citizens of Maryland.”

While Moore named most of his cabinet secretaries ahead of last week’s inauguration, he still hadn’t announced a transportation secretary.

The other secretaries were largely announced via press release, but for Wiedefeld, Moore lined up people to join him at a lectern to sing Wiedefeld’s praises.

That included Raymond Jackson, head of a labor union representing Metro workers. Jackson said he and Wiedefeld got off to a rocky start but grew to work together, including securing a new contract for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. “He really cared about his workers,” Jackson said.

Wiedefeld’s experience includes serving as general manager of the Metro, the train system in the Washington, D.C. region, from late 2015 to mid-2022. His tenure had ups and downs, as the system faced problems with safety and reliability as well as a drop in ridership due to the coronavirus pandemic. He won praise from some for leading Metro though difficult challenges.

Wiedefeld had announced in January 2022 that he would retire from Metro in six months, but ended up leaving ahead of schedule after Metro said it had let safety certifications expire for more than half of the 500 rail operators. The chief operating officer also left at that time.

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Wiedefeld made no mention of the problem when he announced his earlier-than-planned departure, saying in a statement that “[s]tepping aside a few weeks ahead of schedule is in the best interest of the agency and its workforce.” He then took a job with the private engineering and construction firm HDR as director of transportation projects in the Northeast.

Moore, when asked about safety challenges at Metro during Wiedefeld’s tenure, said the nominee had gone through “a full vetting process.”

“When we think about the future, for the things that we are looking to get done, for the type of speed that we want to move on, with the lens that we want to evaluate every single transportation project that we have — whether it’s dealing with roads and bridges, or whether it’s dealing with a renewed focus on mass transit — we believe firmly and deeply that Paul is the person that’s going to help lead us there,” Moore said.

Wiedefeld also was executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration — which operates the state-owned Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Linthicum — from 2009 to 2015 and from 2002 to 2005.

In between those stints running the airport, Wiedefeld was administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, which oversees MARC trains, Baltimore’s subway and light rail, buses and paratransit.

As with other nominated cabinet secretaries, Wiedefeld will be subject to a confirmation vote by the Maryland Senate. The Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee is expected to start holding confirmation hearings on cabinet secretary nominees next week.

Ahead of the announcement, Senate President Bill Ferguson told reporters that it’s important for the transportation secretary to have familiarity with Maryland’s scope of transportation programs, from highways to transit to the airport.

“It is a very complicated, in-depth agency,” said Ferguson, a Democrat.

The new secretary will play a key role in working with the governor on how to spend the $500 million additional for transportation proposed in the state budget. While that sounds like a lot of money, Ferguson said, in transportation, “it can go in the blink of an eye.”

Moore still has a few more top-level appointments to make, including secretary of higher education, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, adjutant general and secretary for his new Department of Service and Civic Innovation.