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Port of Baltimore Executive Director Bill Doyle, MDOT Secretary Greg Slater and Governor Larry Hogan took a boat ride to watch new cranes get delivered to the Seagirt Marine Terminal at the Port. (Photo by Joseph Andrucyk/Office of the Governor)

As I headed into work Thursday morning, I knew it was going to be an interesting day.

On the agenda were trips to the Bay Bridge and Port of Baltimore to witness the arrival of four new, massive Neo-Panamax container cranes; an important meeting with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board; calls with the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA); discussions on the Purple Line; and an update on the federal infrastructure bill being debated in Washington, D.C.

This certainly wasn’t a typical day – how often does one get to stand atop the Bay Bridge, as I would go on to do mid-morning? – but it does hopefully give you a glimpse of what life is like as Secretary of Transportation. It’s a busy mix of running MDOT’s day-to-day operations, attending events and meetings, taking phone calls, completing office work and fulfilling numerous other tasks. It might not always be glamorous, but all of it is necessary to keep our transportation system running.

Thankfully, we have a great team at MDOT. Together, we’re working hard to build the transportation system for the next generation.

I spent much of my morning participating in a WMATA board meeting, held virtually. We discussed and acted on a number of issues, from parking fee waivers to the FY 2022 operating budget. We also heard updates on WMATA’s Blue, Orange and Silver lines, among other important topics.

MDOT Secretary Greg Slater rides on the Bay Bridge while taking part in a virtual meeting of the WMATA board. (MDOT Staff Photo)

While the WMATA meeting was taking place, I headed to the Bay Bridge, where I was set to meet with my colleagues from the MDTA. We were briefly shutting down the bridge to allow for the safe passage of a Chinese vessel called the Zhen Hua 24, which carried four new, massive Neo-Panamax container cranes north toward the Port of Baltimore. With traffic stopped, we headed up to the top of the bridge to watch the ship pass beneath us with just 4 feet of clearance. It would later pass beneath the Key bridge with just 3 feet of clearance.

It was a surreal experience to stand there in the middle of the bridge, high above the Chesapeake Bay, as the massive cranes passed just feet below us. The ship had to wait until low tide to make the crossing – that’s how close it was.

A view of the cranes as they pass under the Bay Bridge. (MDOT Staff Photo)

For me, standing atop the bridge while these massive pieces of equipment headed up the Bay after two months at sea demonstrated just how important the Port of Baltimore is to the supply chain and our economy. But it also showed how each of our transportation systems are connected.

The new cranes will reach containers that will then be put on trains and trucks. Those trains and trucks will then use our rails and highways to deliver goods to businesses and the public. I often talk about the door-to-door experience. On this day, the start of those door-to-door journeys was on full display.

It’s important that we constantly think about the system as a whole and the role it plays in the supply chain. Each mode of transport is important, but what’s most important is the end destination of the trip or product.

Governor Larry Hogan joined me, Port Executive Director Bill Doyle, Bayard Hogans from Ports America Chesapeake, John Porcari of the Port Envoy and Scott Cowan from the ILA a few hours later to watch the cranes get delivered to Seagirt Marine Terminal at the Port. There, we got an up-close and personal look at these massive pieces of equipment.

Governor Larry Hogan; Scott Cowan, president of International Longshoremen’s Association 333; Port of Baltimore Executive Director Bill Doyle; MDOT Secretary Greg Slater; and Bayard Hogans, vice president of Ports America Chesapeake stand near the new cranes. (Photo by Joseph Andrucyk/Office of the Governor)

The cranes are fully electric, thus they emit no diesel emissions. Each measures 450 feet tall and weighs about 1,740 tons – 25 feet taller and 190 tons heavier than the Port’s first set of Neo-Panamax cranes that arrived in 2012. The new cranes can each extend to reach 23 containers across on a ship and lift 187,500 pounds of cargo.

Ports America Chesapeake, our partner at the Port of Baltimore, will test and prepare the cranes over the next few months. They are expected to be fully operational in early 2022.

The cranes are part of a significant expansion by Ports America Chesapeake at Seagirt to provide greater capacity and efficiency to handle anticipated increases in container volumes. The $166 million investment in terminal and yard upgrades includes a second, 50-foot-deep berth to accommodate mega-ships; new container handling equipment such as 15 hybrid-electric gantry cranes; and a new truck gate complex.

These cranes and our amazing partners and workforce at the Port of Baltimore, combined with the Howard Street Tunnel project – which will allow us to double-stack containers going to and from the Port – will greatly increase efficiency at the Port as we head into the future. To say I’m excited about the Port’s potential would be an understatement.

Chris Connor, president of American Association of Port Authorities; U.S. DOT Special Port Envoy John Porcari; Port of Baltimore Executive Director Bill Doyle; MDOT Secretary Greg Slater; and Governor Larry Hogan ride out to see the new cranes. (Photo by Joseph Andrucyk/Office of the Governor)

While my time at the Bay Bridge and the Port was valuable, I had plenty else to do on this particular day.

On a call with the MVA, we worked through Customer Connect Phase 2. This phase of our system modernization project improves driver services. We’re focused on the 360-degree view of our customer to best serve them. Customer Connect is one way we’re doing that.

We also talked about the upgrades coming to the Glen Burnie MVA headquarters. These improvements will ensure that this facility matches the quality and innovation of the team at the MVA.

With the MDTA, we discussed progress with All-Electronic Tolling and Third-Generation Electronic Collection, also known as “3G,” along with some of the challenges we are experiencing after moving into that environment two years ahead of plans due to COVID-19.

On a call about the Purple Line, we talked about progress being made and work being done to ensure our new bid process stays on schedule. We’re 100-percent dedicated to the completion of this critical project in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

When it came time to discuss the federal infrastructure bill, I received an update on progress, and we talked about how we can be most helpful from our seats in the state. We want to make sure we are where we need to be with contracts, plans and resources if a bill passes to ensure we put those dollars to work for Maryland quickly and meaningfully.

From our highways, transit and toll operations to our port, airport and motor vehicle facilities, everything – and everyone – is connected. This day demonstrated that fact like never before. I’m grateful for all the MDOT and MDTA team members who make this department go everyday and who made all the progress that day possible. I also commend the rest of our team members who continue to serve our communities and businesses, day after day.

Together, we’re creating a better, safer, more efficient transportation system for Maryland.