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About $95M in federal highway funds will be used at Harbor Point

City plans to use the Harbor Point TIF bonds as a 20% local match to access future federal highway funds.

city dock canal

The Central Avenue Bridge, to span this waterway (the old City Dock Canal), is part of the city’s plan to use 80% federal highway funds.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Chalk up another $95 million in public costs headed for the Harbor Point development.

A top city official has confirmed to The Brew that the Rawlings-Blake administration plans to allocate about $94.9 million in federal highway funds for a Central Avenue bridge and new roads at the luxury office and apartment development south of Harbor East.

This money is on top of the $107 million of city TIF tax increment financing scheduled to be acted on tonight by the full City Council – plus $88 million in Enterprise Zone (“EZ”) tax credits and $24 million in Brownfield tax credits already allotted to the developer.

In documents released to the media and during three public hearings, the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) and Department of Finance have not made it clear that a sizable portion of the city’s future federal roads funds would be channeled to Harbor Point.

At a hearing last Wednesday, William “Billy” Hwang, deputy transportation director, acknowledged under direct questioning that the Central Avenue bridge would cost up to $50 million – or five times more than city documents previously indicated – and would tap into about $40 million in federal matching funds.

Hwang later told The Brew that, in fact, all of the roadways to be built at Harbor Point will benefit from a 80% federal match.

Boston Street Rebuilding May be Impacted

Using federal highway funds at Harbor Point would reduce money available for other city projects – and some transportation programs may be put “on hold” for years to come.

The city has apparently not yet determined what projects might be impacted, but the 2012-2015 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) gives some hints of where funds may be reduced.

One candidate is the realignment and reconstruction of Boston Street, which turns into a two-lane road when it crosses the Norfolk Southern’s rail line in Canton.

The multi-track crossing is frequently obstructed by freight trains, which results in snarled traffic stretching for blocks in either direction.

Last fall, $1.2 million in federal funds earmarked for preliminary engineering of a new Boston realignment was redirected to Phase 2 of Central Avenue improvements, which involved reconstructing the street that would link Harbor Point to Harbor East.

The city is also reducing funding for a bridge preservation and rehabilitation program in order to expedite funds for the Central Avenue project.

Other programs slated for future federal matching grants include a rebuilt Remington Avenue bridge over Stony Run, a traffic roundabout at Reisterstown Road and Park Circle Drive in Northwest Baltimore, bike and pedestrian walkways in Harlem Park known as “Reconnecting West Baltimore,” and reconstruction of Broening Highway to the Maryland Port Administration’s Dundalk Marine Terminal.

City’s Roads Funding for Harbor Point

The $107 million TIF legislation, approved last week by a City Council committee over the objections of its chairman, Carl Stokes, allocates $23,717,399 in TIF bonds for the following roadway improvements at Harbor Point:

• Central Avenue bridge – $10.4 million*
• Dock Street – $5,188,602
• Point Street – $643,382
• Wills Street – $1,639,512
• Block Street – $2,886,328
• Wills Street Extension – $2,959,575
TOTAL  – $23,717,399

* This includes streetscape improvements on Central Avenue, between Baltimore and Lancaster streets, currently being undertaken by the city.

Based on this calculation, the 80% matching federal funds would amount to $94,869,596, including the Central Avenue street improvements.

The biggest single roadway expense would be for the four-lane Central Avenue bridge, stretching about 260 feet across the City Dock Canal to link Harbor Point with Central Avenue.

The bridge is set to be built during Phase 1 of Harbor Point so that the proposed Exelon Tower can have a direct link to the north and to I-83. Currently, the only access to and from the peninsula is via Caroline Street, which borders the site’s eastern boundary.

No Traffic Impact Funds Included

Tonight’s TIF legislation before the City Council does not include any funds for traffic studies of Harbor Point’s impact on Fells Point, Canton or Highlandtown, which have been experiencing increasing car traffic from Harbor East and other construction.

Last week, the Fell’s Point Residents Association called for a traffic impact study, saying the new development could have a devastating impact on historic Fells Point.

Further complicating the traffic issue in Southeast Baltimore is the proposed Red Line transit project. Current plans call for Boston Street to be closed for a period of up to 2½ years to facilitate the building of the Red Line between Hudson Street and Canton Crossing.

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  • Calvin Garner

    I know some streets in the city that could use some repairs.

    All of them.

  • Jed Weeks

    In comparison, the entire bike network in Portland cost ~$60 million.

    • Aaron Mirenzi

      too bad a functioning bike network can’t get a TIF for all the economic revenue it would create

  • Melissa

    The traffic circle Reisterstown and Park Circle has been on the agenda since Martin O’Malley was mayor: http://www.phrmd.org/Downloads/Park%20Heights%20Master%20Plan.pdf That intersection is dangerous. It is also unfriendly to bikers wishing to transit thru Druid Hill Park to NW Baltimore. Beechwood Dr in the park just ends, with no easy access to the road. If you look at Google maps, you can see Beechwood just ending, a small section of grass, and then a poorly kept small path at Druid Hill and and Reisterstown.

  • Gerald Neily

    Now we know for sure that the static viewpoint that Harbor Point will pay for its infrastructure by repaying its TIF bonds is absolutely wrong. Back in ancient times when I was a City Planner, the feds required the pre-designation of a federal aid highway system to prevent this kind of abuse.

    • Matthew Danowski

      The TIF will still pay for itself, it is this backhanded “oh, by the way” shenanigans that starts to reach into the public coffers. This goes far beyond the merits and financial mechanics of TIF financing…

      I agreed with the TIF financing, but do not agree with this.

  • Matthew Danowski

    While I sympathize with the Fells Point Resident Association on congestion issues, traffic is always going to be a symptom of success. We cannot say we are working for population and business growth in the city, and then complain about the aftereffects once we achieve it. The fact of the matter is that with more people you are going to have more cars, especially in a city such as Baltimore with poor public transportation.

    • oliviarh

      While traffic congestion does tend to increase with development, a more reasoned plan would address this more effectively. Also, remember, we are talking about what is essentially a peninsula jutting out from a somewhat isolated area. Any normal problems are thus multiplied.

      • Aaron Mirenzi

        I’m in agreeance. The intersections of fleet/aliceanna with central/caroline are going to be pretty bad, mostly for the people trying to come and go from harbor point. I think the one silver lining of this is that it will force people to live where they work and do all their business locally. Perhaps a good idea would be to spend a few million on making the area very welcoming to bikers so less people choose to drive.

  • oliviarh

    The Sun just reported that the TIF passed. The article makes a mockery of the opposition by just barely mentioning it. Also mentions a “record” $3M contribution to some sort of housing fund, without putting it into the context of benefits received by the developer.

    • baltimorebrew

      Please see our coverage: bit.ly/145eE8L .

      • oliviarh

        That’s why I’m on your site. The best place for real news in Bmore.

  • Lizzie 58

    Someone should ask BDC if they included $95 Million in their analysis. I can see BDC stuttering now. We are all glad not to be Jim Kraft tonight. His constituents in Canton will be seething about the loss of funds for Boston Street. When Downtown loses some of its projects, maybe Kirby Fowler can explain his support for Harborview all over again. As for reducing bridge preservation and rehabilitation funding, we will all have warm feelings as we drive over the City’s oldest bridges.

  • Matthew Riesner

    It’s time to link the north and eastern side to the Harbor with Key Highway with a cross-harbor drawbridge. Currently, to leave town via I-95, you need to drive way east to almost Dundalk or all the way around the harbor in congested downtown traffic. I think a bridge that that connects Harbor East, Fells Point, and Harbor Point to Key Highway, for convenient, highway access would greatly improve traffic patterns accross the city. We stopped using the Inner Harbor years ago for large freight and we do not have to accomodate large cargo vessel such as Panamax ships, therefore, I think building a bridge similar to the Hanover Street Bridge would be feasable and wise.

    • oliviarh

      Just wonder about the aesthetics of that proposal. Certainly would be functional.

      • Matthew Riesner

        You can build bridges that are aethically pleasing and also functional. I think it ideally should be a drawbridge so it 1) large boats can cross and 2) it would be low(ish) on the skyline. I have seen in my travels many bridges that fit well into cityscapes and actually add rather than detract from the aesthetic appeal of city.

  • Nacho Belvedere

    I’m curious about how city dollars are being spent on other road projects as well. For instance, what is up with adding curbs/islands to Key Highway by I-95? There’s probably $500K-1 million being spent on expensive concrete work to a road that was in perfectly good shape while there are streets all over the city in dire need of resurfacing? A nice kickback for a politically connected contractor no doubt…

  • Bgirl

    Linking the harbor with a bridge? Doesn’t anyone remember the I-95/Baltimore battle of the 70s? Mikulski’s battle against the expansion began her political career.

    • Matthew Riesner

      That was at the cost of tearing down large parts of Fells Point and Little Italy to put a highway directly following the waterfront. I think building a bridge to link inner city traffic, given the awkwardness that the Inner Harbor has on our city’s grid and the way the city is broken up, is wise.

  • Matthew Riesner

    It would be handling the traffic that will be associated with the Harbor Point development as well as the traffic that already exists from Harbor East, Johns Hopkins, and Fells Point. I would use Central Avenue due to the width that could easilly be turned into a boulevard that already has many commercial businesses and high density apartment buildings. I think it would be wise for the bridge to end south at Key Highway at Lawence St., taking part of, what is now, a parking lot for the Museum of Industry. This bridge should also have a protect pedestrian walkway and protected bicycle lanes. By protected I mean that there is a physical barrier, such as a jersey wall that separates vehicular traffic from bikes and pedestrians. Draw bridges do create jams while open, but those jams are temporary (usually only a few minutes), it will still take less time to cross via the drawbridge than going around downtown, and most vessels going in and out of the Inner Harbor these days would be low enough to pass without the bridge being open (lets face it there only a few large ships and tall sailing vessels that would require the bridge to be opened). We have been able to afford to build bridges to accomodate for growth in the past and and I believe that the city can afford to build for growth now.

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