Maryland's Wes Moore names former Metro GM as transportation … – The Washington Post


Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has selected former Metro general manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who led the nation’s third-largest transit agency for six years before resigning last spring, to serve as Maryland’s secretary of transportation, according to two people close to the governor.

Moore (D) is expected to make the formal announcement Tuesday afternoon.

Wiedefeld would be one of the most high-profile figures to be nominated by Moore, who took office a week ago and has been assembling his Cabinet. If approved by the state Senate, Wiedefeld would assume leadership of a department that Moore has identified as critical to his campaign promise to “leave no one behind,” describing transportation as a key component to providing equity.

The selection creates an unusual turnabout for Wiedefeld, who, under Maryland law, automatically will become one of Metro’s eight board members. Wiedefeld had served as Metro’s general manager since late 2015 before he and the transit agency’s chief operating officer resigned eight months ago after a training and testing lapse surfaced, affecting nearly half of train operators.

Wiedefeld’s departure came two months before he was scheduled to retire.

Metro’s Wiedefeld steps down one day after agency announces training lapses

Moore, who unveiled his budget last week, allocated $500 million in additional funding to unspecified transportation projects. He said he wanted to allow his new transportation secretary to prioritize the needs.

Wiedefeld will help decide how, and whether, to pursue a plan put forth by Moore’s predecessor, Larry Hogan (R), to expand Interstate 270 and part of the Capital Beltway with express toll lanes that are built, financed and operated by the private sector. The Hogan administration had planned to clinch approval for a 50-year contract before he left office but was delayed by a longer-than-expected environmental approval process.

Moore has publicly criticized the proposed toll lanes as too expensive for most motorists and said the state should consider other ways to alleviate traffic congestion, such as by using highway shoulders and expanding MARC commuter rail service.

Wiedefeld also will oversee construction of the light-rail Purple Line through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which is $1.46 billion over budget, more than 4½ years behind schedule and facing additional delays that could push its opening to mid-2027, according to a recent project report. Unless project officials find a way to accelerate work, the originally planned five years of construction would span almost a decade.

The line will be separate from Metro but will connect to four Metro stations, as well as Amtrak and MARC commuter rail stations. It will be the first direct suburb-to-suburb rail line in the Washington region.

Moore has also promised to resurrect Baltimore’s Red Line, an east-west transit project killed by Hogan, although his team has acknowledged that basic questions remain about what the reborn project could look like — including whether it will be light rail.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) declined to comment on the governor’s selection early Tuesday but said he hopes the new secretary will work closely with the General Assembly.

“Even though it is a lot of resources, it is still limited resources,” Ferguson said. “And so while $500 million sounds like a lot of money, in transportation programming it can go in the blink of an eye. … We’ve got to think about, are we talking one big project or are we talking, you know, multiple projects with different modes? And so that’s going to be a key decision early on.”

The job would be a return to Maryland government for Wiedefeld, who previously served as head of the Maryland Transit Administration and Maryland Aviation Administration, mostly under Democratic governors.

As aviation chief, Wiedefeld oversaw Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, including from 2002 to 2005, when it was one of the fastest-growing airports in the country. At the same time, airports were adjusting to the implementation of new Transportation Security Administration checkpoints after 9/11.

Wiedefeld managed the completion of a five-year, $1.8 billion expansion at BWI, including construction of a 26-gate terminal for Southwest Airlines, a parking garage and an off-site rental-car facility.

As the state’s transit administrator from 2007 to 2009, he oversaw MARC commuter rail and Baltimore’s light-rail subway and bus systems. He then returned to the aviation administration until 2015, when Hogan terminated him seven months after taking office.

Wiedefeld also has worked at the Parsons Brinckerhoff engineering consulting firm as a vice president and head of its aviation consulting practice.

With a former chief executive of Metro joining it’s board, few others on the panel would have as much knowledge of the transit agency’s inner workings as Wiedefeld, but it also would create an unusual working arrangement between Randy Clarke — the general manager hired to replace Wiedefeld — and Wiedefeld, who would become one of Clarke’s bosses.

The Metro training lapse that preceded Wiedefeld’s departure prompted the transit agency to pull train operators out of service for recertification, which created a shortage that led to longer waits for trains. The disruption added frustration for riders, regional businesses and elected leaders amid a rail car shortage that began in October 2021 after Metro’s 7000-series cars — which make up 60 percent of its fleet — were ordered out of service after a wheel defect was found.

A federal investigation showed Metro was aware of unsafe wheel movements in the cars for years but had not fully addressed the problem or adequately alerted Metrorail’s regulatory commission. The problems, including other safety violations, led D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to publicly question Metro’s management.

Wiedefeld announced his resignation on the same day Bowser made her comments, hours after the Metro board had met in executive session.

The fall was swift for Wiedefeld, who had been hired to stabilize Metro, transform its safety culture and improve its record with regulators after — under Wiedefeld’s predecessor — a passenger died of smoke inhalation from a 2015 track fire on a stalled train.

As he was hired, Wiedefeld said his goal was to prioritize safety over service — a mission he underlined four months into the job when he shut down the rail system for 24 hours so inspectors could search for deteriorating power cables. In 2016, he launched a $110 million-plus blitz of maintenance that accelerated three years of track repairs and equipment replacement into a year, a move that brought commute disruptions Wiedefeld defended as a price that had to be paid for safety.

Leaders credit Wiedefeld with overhauling Metro’s worn-out infrastructure — from station platforms and escalators to bridges and tunnels — while setting the stage for Metro to run more-reliable and safer service when its fleet is restored. In November, Wiedefeld was among the current and former dignitaries recognized at a ceremony to open the $3 billion Silver Line extension.

Luz Lazo contributed to this report.


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