Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn has announced that he will leave his post in early January, with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) naming Gregory Slater, currently head of the State Highway Administration, to replace him, pending confirmation by the state Senate.
Rahn, 65, joined the cabinet of the newly elected Hogan in January 2015, following stints as transportation chief in Missouri and New Mexico. He did not announce future plans.
Known for a sometimes blunt approach in dealing with legislators, Rahn was tasked with carrying out Hogan’s campaign promise to step up road and bridge construction while de-emphasizing transit in Maryland’s urban areas. In June 2015, Hogan canceled Baltimore’s $2.9-billion Red Line subway project and insisted on a revised funding strategy for the Purple Line, a controversial, often-delayed $2.2-billion light rail system across the northern Washington suburbs currently under construction as a public-private partnership.
In recent months, Rahn’s high-profile support for a P3 to add express lanes along the I-495 Capital Beltway and I-270 interchange outside Washington—potentially costing as much as $11 billion, making it the largest P3 of its type in the US —has attracted strong pushback from residents and legislators over issues ranging from property acquisition to the project’s phasing and financial structure.
Approval by Maryland’s three-member Board of Public Works, necessary to begin the bidding process, is now in doubt following criticism of the project by state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), a potential candidate for governor in 2022.
Michael Sakata, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Builders & Materials Association, was not totally surprised by Rahn’s decision, as rumors of a possible departure have circulated in the industry for several months.
“Pete has ruffled some feathers along the way, but he’s pushing through a lot of projects,” Sakata says. “It comes with the territory when P3s aren’t as common here as they are in Virginia or Florida. And he said things that, honestly, a lot of folks needed to hear.”
Adds Champe McCullogh, CEO of Maryland AGC: “He provided the stability Maryland needs as it takes up this kind of procurement, to explain how it fits into the overall transportation plan. No question that he was aggressive, because the governor wanted it that way. He wouldn’t have accomplished anything if the governor wasn’t behind him."
Rahn is credited with spearheading improvements to more than half of the state’s highway system, accelerated deployment of electronic tolling and forging a partnership with contractors to expedite widening and safety improvements on Route 404, a now heavily used route to Maryland and Delaware beach resorts.
The state also recently announced a joint strategy with Virginia to fund widening of a key Potomac River crossing near Washington. In addition to touting success at advancing the Purple Line while reducing Maryland’s financial risk, he has also embraced the study of monorail and hyperloop systems to improve mobility between Washington and Baltimore.
Related to the I-270/Beltway P3 approach, "he deserves credit for being one of the movers to bring that project forward," says McCulloch "What frustrates the industry is that [the process] takes too long."
Sakata expects Slater, a 20-year veteran of the Maryland DOT, to apply a more collaborative approach while continuing to push the Beltway/I-270 P3 through the approval process.
Prior to heading the highway agency, he was deputy administrator for planning, engineering, real estate and environment after seven years of service as planning director.
"I’m hopeful he’ll be able to move things along. I’ve already heard that some legislators like his approach better. If that’s what it takes to move project along faster, the industry welcomes it." says McCullough.