In documents submitted to the state, the outgoing Rawlings-Blake administration agreed to funnel $23 million more in tax incentive (TIF) bond money to help underwrite highway improvements for Kevin Plank’s Port Covington project.
The commitment was disclosed in the minutes of the Maryland Transportation Authority’s board meeting shortly before Stephanie Rawlings-Blake left office and Catherine Pugh was sworn in as Baltimore’s mayor.
The 54% increase in city funding – from $43.1 million to $66.4 million – comes as part of Maryland’s re-submission of a FASTLANE grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The addititional cost is a result of Plank’s desire for a fifth modified interchange along I-95, permitting southbound expressway access to McComas Street.
Backed by Pugh
In principle, the project has the strong backing of Mayor Pugh. After assuming office, Pugh hand-delivered a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump touting the “Access I-95 Project” sought by the CEO of Under Armour.
“I am urging you to use the power of your office to support robust investment in urban infrastructure that will generate thousands of jobs and leverage billions in private sector investment,” the letter said. It specifically called for Trump’s support of the roadway application.
The Obama administration rejected a less costly version of the application last year.
While the reasons for not funding the project were not publicly disclosed, the application was notable, among the 212 submitted nationwide, for the lack of “buy-in” by Plank’s private real estate company, Sagamore Development.
While requesting $152 million in roadway improvements, Sagamore committed only $5 million of its own resources to the project – or 3% of the total.
Sagamore did not increase that commitment in the latest application, which now seeks $178 million in public funds. The company’s share is based on the estimated cost of hiring a consultant to prepare analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act as well as Interstate Access Point Approval requirements.
Howard Street Tunnel
Plank’s project will compete with a second FASTLANE application, submitted to enlarge the Howard Street Tunnel to accommodate double-stack freight trains serving the Port of Baltimore.
This application, which Washington rejected last year, commits CSX Transportation to pay for $145 million, or 32%, of the improvements. Those funds would be matched by $145 million in state money and $155 million in FASTLANE funds. The city would not pay anything.
In her letter to Trump, Pugh endorsed this project, saying it would “lead to reduced cost and time in shipping goods needed to keep the country’s economy growing” and create 3,000 local jobs.
The project’s chances of securing federal dollars, however, appear slim given the parameters of the FASTLANE program.
Non-highway rail and port projects were allotted $500 million by Congress for the 2016-2020 term of the program. Only $326 million is still available, DOT recently disclosed.
Thus, the city is requesting nearly half of the program’s total pot of money, which is designed to be dispersed throughout the country. Last year, six port and rail projects were funded, ranging from $8 million to $45 million each.
Repeat Applicants Beware
Federal officials have underscored the slim chance of returning applicants winning the jackpot in the latest round of awards. Here is DOT’s full warning contained in its guidelines for 2017 submissions:
“If an applicant is re-applying for a project for which that applicant applied for FY 2016 funding and was not awarded, the applicant should highlight new or revised information in the application. This will. . . allow DOT to avoid redundant evaluations and focus evaluation resources on new information. To the extent that a resubmitted application contains few or no changes, USDOT may rely on previous analyses when considering the project for a FY 2017 award.”
While CSX has the resources to finance more of the tunnel project, Sagamore Development has pleaded poverty when asked to underwrite roadway and other infrastructure costs of its upscale apartment and office complex planned alongside Under Armour’s new world headquarters.
Even when granted $660 million in city TIF bond money last year, Sagamore president Marc Weller was describing the FASTLANE award as essential to make the $7 billion project feasible.
“Without this grant, the project cannot be completed,” he said in a public statement.