Environmental assessment for Howard Street Tunnel project in Baltimore is released; reconstruction will permit double stacking

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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The reconstruction of the Howard Street Tunnel is expected to begin later this year.

The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) announced the release of the federally approved environmental assessment for the project to reconstruct the CSX-owned, 126-year-old Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore to allow for double-stacked intermodal container trains to and from the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore. This project will increase container capacity and business at the Port and create thousands of jobs.

The comment period for the environmental assessment began Monday, March 1, and runs through Tuesday, March 30, allowing the public to submit questions and comments. The environmental assessment is available for public review and comment at www.mpa.maryland.gov/HST. Comments can be emailed to the project team at [email protected], or mailed directly to Bradley Smith at MDOT MPA, 401 E. Pratt St., 19th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.

“The project to allow double stack trains in the Howard Street Tunnel has been one of our administration’s top priorities,” said Gov. Larry Hogan. “As the Port of Baltimore and the international maritime industry continue to bounce back from the impacts of COVID-19, this project will increase business at the port, generate thousands of new jobs and spur growth for the entire state economy.”

Following the public comment period, the project requires final National Environmental Policy Act approval before CSX can complete final engineering and obtain permits. Pending that approval, construction is expected to begin later this year. The project consists of vertical clearance improvements at the Howard Street Tunnel and 22 other locations between Baltimore and Philadelphia. The existing Howard Street Tunnel will be reconstructed to provide an additional 18 in. of clearance within the tunnel. There are three additional bridges in Baltimore that require superstructure work: the North Avenue bridge will be modified and the Guilford Avenue and Harford Road bridges will be fully replaced. Other locations in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania only require track lowering beneath the structures.

With its supersized cranes and deep container berth, the Port of Baltimore is one of only a few East Coast ports that can accommodate some of the biggest ships in the world. Height restrictions within the Howard Street Tunnel prevent shipment of double-stacked containers by rail to and from the port and up and down the East Coast. Double-stacking capabilities at the Howard Street Tunnel will allow the port to handle 160,000 additional containers annually. It would also generate 6,550 construction jobs while an additional 7,300 jobs would be created because of the increased business.

Double stacking also will 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 with less emissions.

“The Howard Street Tunnel project highlights how critical infrastructure investments can benefit the entire region,” said MDOT Secretary Greg Slater. “This partnership between state, local, and federal agencies and the private sector will enhance the regional supply chain and allow the port to deliver ship-to-front door service. The result will be more jobs, an increase in port capacity and a significant boost to the state economy.”

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