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Neighborhoodsby Mark Reutter12:03 pmAug 12, 20130

About $95M in federal highway funds will be used at Harbor Point

City plans to use the Harbor Point TIF bonds as a 20% local match to access future federal highway funds.

Above: The Central Avenue Bridge, to span this waterway (the old City Dock Canal), is part of the city’s plan to use 80% federal highway funds.

Chalk up another $95 million in public costs headed for the Harbor Point development.

A top city official has confirmed to The Brew that the Rawlings-Blake administration plans to allocate about $94.9 million in federal highway funds for a Central Avenue bridge and new roads at the luxury office and apartment development south of Harbor East.

This money is on top of the $107 million of city TIF tax increment financing scheduled to be acted on tonight by the full City Council – plus $88 million in Enterprise Zone (“EZ”) tax credits and $24 million in Brownfield tax credits already allotted to the developer.

In documents released to the media and during three public hearings, the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) and Department of Finance have not made it clear that a sizable portion of the city’s future federal roads funds would be channeled to Harbor Point.

At a hearing last Wednesday, William “Billy” Hwang, deputy transportation director, acknowledged under direct questioning that the Central Avenue bridge would cost up to $50 million – or five times more than city documents previously indicated – and would tap into about $40 million in federal matching funds.

Hwang later told The Brew that, in fact, all of the roadways to be built at Harbor Point will benefit from a 80% federal match.

Boston Street Rebuilding May be Impacted

Using federal highway funds at Harbor Point would reduce money available for other city projects – and some transportation programs may be put “on hold” for years to come.

The city has apparently not yet determined what projects might be impacted, but the 2012-2015 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) gives some hints of where funds may be reduced.

One candidate is the realignment and reconstruction of Boston Street, which turns into a two-lane road when it crosses the Norfolk Southern’s rail line in Canton.

The multi-track crossing is frequently obstructed by freight trains, which results in snarled traffic stretching for blocks in either direction.

Last fall, $1.2 million in federal funds earmarked for preliminary engineering of a new Boston realignment was redirected to Phase 2 of Central Avenue improvements, which involved reconstructing the street that would link Harbor Point to Harbor East.

The city is also reducing funding for a bridge preservation and rehabilitation program in order to expedite funds for the Central Avenue project.

Other programs slated for future federal matching grants include a rebuilt Remington Avenue bridge over Stony Run, a traffic roundabout at Reisterstown Road and Park Circle Drive in Northwest Baltimore, bike and pedestrian walkways in Harlem Park known as “Reconnecting West Baltimore,” and reconstruction of Broening Highway to the Maryland Port Administration’s Dundalk Marine Terminal.

City’s Roads Funding for Harbor Point

The $107 million TIF legislation, approved last week by a City Council committee over the objections of its chairman, Carl Stokes, allocates $23,717,399 in TIF bonds for the following roadway improvements at Harbor Point:

• Central Avenue bridge – $10.4 million*
• Dock Street – $5,188,602
• Point Street – $643,382
• Wills Street – $1,639,512
• Block Street – $2,886,328
• Wills Street Extension – $2,959,575
TOTAL  – $23,717,399

* This includes streetscape improvements on Central Avenue, between Baltimore and Lancaster streets, currently being undertaken by the city.

Based on this calculation, the 80% matching federal funds would amount to $94,869,596, including the Central Avenue street improvements.

The biggest single roadway expense would be for the four-lane Central Avenue bridge, stretching about 260 feet across the City Dock Canal to link Harbor Point with Central Avenue.

The bridge is set to be built during Phase 1 of Harbor Point so that the proposed Exelon Tower can have a direct link to the north and to I-83. Currently, the only access to and from the peninsula is via Caroline Street, which borders the site’s eastern boundary.

No Traffic Impact Funds Included

Tonight’s TIF legislation before the City Council does not include any funds for traffic studies of Harbor Point’s impact on Fells Point, Canton or Highlandtown, which have been experiencing increasing car traffic from Harbor East and other construction.

Last week, the Fell’s Point Residents Association called for a traffic impact study, saying the new development could have a devastating impact on historic Fells Point.

Further complicating the traffic issue in Southeast Baltimore is the proposed Red Line transit project. Current plans call for Boston Street to be closed for a period of up to 2½ years to facilitate the building of the Red Line between Hudson Street and Canton Crossing.

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