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Charm City Circulator to be expanded to Fort McHenry

Expansion of the 21-bus Charm City Circulator to include the Fort McHenry Monument and National Shrine will soon take place with the help of a $1.5 million federal transportation grant.

The Circulator will expand its territory into the city’s southern reaches — just as the bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812 gets underway.

The grant was announced Monday by Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, along with Reps. Elijah Cummings and John P. Sarbanes.

The grant will pay for 65 percent of the costs to create a “Star Spangled Route” to Fort McHenry Monument and National Shrine, connecting downtown to the historic tourist destination. The federal grant money will be spread over three years and local and private funds will pay for the remaining operating cost of the new route.

The free circulator shuttle service began last year as part of former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s initiative to make the city greener. The service is managed by the city Department of Transportation and funded by a percentage of revenue from city parking taxes, said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to boosting center city life and business ventures downtown.

Last year, parking taxes yielded $850,000 for Charm City Circulator costs, Fowler said.

“The grant is another reflection of how successful the circulator program has been,” said Fowler, whose group spearheaded the concept of a free citywide shuttle. “It is beyond our wildest expectations, and it seems like more and more people want to find resources for creating new lines.”

The service is provided by hybrid buses and includes two routes that span some of the city’s geographic quadrants: the Purple Route from Pennsylvania Station to Federal Hill, and the Orange Route from Harbor East to Hollins Market. This fall, a third route will be introduced — the Green Route, from City Hall to Fells Point and Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

In July, ridership on the Purple and Orange routes totaled 261,638 with an average daily ride of 8,439, figures from city transportation officials show.

The U.S. Department of Transportation grant also includes a $1.6 million award to reconnect portions of the “Highway to Nowhere” in West Baltimore, part of which was demolished this year.

That grant allows for reconfiguration of the five-lane Fulton Avenue Bridge as part of a community bicycle and pedestrian network. The funding is for landscaping, pedestrian improvements and storm water drainage work. A network of bicycle lanes between Harlem Park and the University of Maryland BioPark will be constructed.

The “Highway to Nowhere” was the nickname for a controversial project that began in the 1960s that was to have linked Interstates 70 and 95 through parts of the city.

After residents were relocated and about 700 houses were razed along the West Franklin and West Mulberry streets corridor, parts of an elevated ramp were constructed. However, continuing community lawsuits and protests about the project led to its eventual shutdown — and the elevated ramp stood for more than 30 years as an eyesore on the West Side.

The “Highway to Nowhere” area is now a part of the planned $1.7 billion Red Line, a 14.5-mile rail line designed to connect the city’s west and east sides. Construction for that project has not been funded, but is in a planning phase.