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Hogan unveils $135M plan to overhaul city’s bus, transit service

Rawlings-Blake, Kamenetz find the plan lacking

Gov. Larry Hogan this morning unveiled what he called a “transformative” $135 million plan to create a modern bus and transit system in Baltimore to replace an “antiquated and broken” network.

Hogan, who has come under criticism from city officials for his decision earlier this year to kill the $2.9 billion light-rail project to serve Baltimore and Baltimore County, said the proposal would allow more residents to travel “conveniently, efficiently and affordably.”

Hogan said his plan would create a dozen high-speed bus routes with color-coded buses to link with other modes of transit; open up new transit hubs; install technology at 200 intersections to allow buses to go through intersections more efficiently; inaugurate new east-west service for residents; and coordinate with key job centers across the region to provide and expand bus service.

The plan would expand transit access to more than 200,000 residents of the city and nearby communities, the governor said. The $135 million for the proposal, Hogan said, is on top of the $2.5 billion the state spends on other transportation needs in the city.

Officials said the new plan would provide access to 745,000 jobs including connections to the Amazon warehouse in East Baltimore, Port Covington, Penn-North, Fort Meade, Arundel Mills and areas of Baltimore County outside the Beltway.

The plan also includes dedicated north-south and east-west transit routes for buses.

A new QuickBus program with service every 10 minutes is expected to begin Oct. 25 and run between City Hall and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in Woodlawn.

Hogan said extensive public outreach will begin almost immediately. The express bus routes will begin in June 2016, and the CityLink portion is scheduled to begin a year later.

“We are doing our part to transform transportation in Baltimore,” Hogan said, calling the performance of the 13th largest transit system in the country “notoriously abysmal” with routes that are too long and slow.

“Simply put, Baltimore’s transit system is a mess,” Hogan said. “It is not integrated and does not make any sense.”

Hogan, joined by Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, unveiled his plan at the West Baltimore MARC station, standing in front of giant mock-up poster of what a city street purportedly would look like if congestion was limited by a more robust bus system. The mural showed a revamped Baltimore Street where only bus, pedestrian and bike traffic would be allowed.

Traffic and train noise occasionally drowned out his remarks.

The location of the announcement was used in July by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials, including mayoral candidate Sen. Catherine Pugh, during a news conference in which they called on Hogan to reconsider his decision to derail the long-anticipated Red Line project.

Rawlings-Blake, who is not seeking re-election, Thursday was harshly critical of the governor’s new plan.

“Governor Hogan’s plan falls far short of revolutionizing transportation across our critical East-West corridor, as would have happened with the Red Line,” the mayor said. “Baltimore is woefully behind other cities in public transit, and this plan does little to advance it.  … I am still left without an answer to what happened to the $736 million in state transportation funding that Governor Hogan took away from the region and redistributed to highway projects across the state.”

The proposal also did not impress Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who has sparred with Hogan recently on other matters and is widely viewed as a potential Democratic candidate for governor in three years.

“Although the governor has not shared his transportation plan with me, it appears that it once again leaves the Baltimore region stuck in traffic,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “Simply ‘window dressing’ a bus system is not a mass transportation solution. They should have been doing upgrades as part of their job anyway. The plan will do nothing to increase choice ridership on mass transit, and it does nothing to promote economic development.”

Rahn and Hogan billed the plan as a needed re-envisioning and expansion of the bus transit system that already serves the metropolitan Baltimore area.

“I’m going to tell you something that will come as no surprise,” Rahn said. “The existing transit system in Baltimore is broken.”

While the plan may be an envisioning of bus transportation in the Baltimore area it is not the $2.9 billion light-rail Red Line project.

Hogan in June announced he was killing the 14.1-mile long project that would have linked Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in east Baltimore with Woodlawn in Baltimore County.

Hogan, in June, called the project a “boondoggle” and Rahn criticized the plan for a $1 billion tunnel that would run under the city, calling it the “fatal flaw.”

Hogan and some city Democrats who support the bus transit plan stopped short of labeling it as the so-called Plan B being demanded by advocates of the Red Line.

“The Red Line made no sense whatsoever to anyone,” Hogan said. “It was a train to nowhere that was not going to accomplish anything.”

“There’s no comparison between the Red Line and what we’re talking about,” Hogan said. “This is transformative, and that was never going to happen.

When asked if the announcement was meant to be an alternative to the Red Line, Hogan said: “It’s a much more comprehensive solution to the problem.”

A number of local political figures showed up Thursday to back Hogan and his plan.

City Councilman Carl Stokes, a Democrat who is running for mayor in 2016, said the announcement was “better than the Red Line.”

“I thought while we were talking of building the Red Line we were ignoring the fact that our system was a mess, was in shambles, wasn’t a good system,” Stokes said. “I think to redirect monies into fixing the system and the infrastructure is better than an alternative to the Red Line.”

Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who also is also running for mayor, praised the plan as well and said the focus should be on improving existing services and encouraging more people to use public transportation.

“Clearly I would want to see it because I’ve always wanted to see quality bus services for the citizens of Baltimore,” said Dixon. “I don’t see this as an (Red Line) alternative because it’s two separate issues. This is better at connecting people. This is going to be around forever. Bus service is going to be around forever. We can create the best service and keep it in place. It’s only going to be a win-win.”

Pugh, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the city’s Senate delegation, said the plan “has to be fully vetted through the community” but said on paper she likes the idea. She stopped short of calling it a Red Line alternative.

“I don’t know if it’s been vetted that far. I’m not comparing one to the other,” Pugh said. “We can’t go backwards. We have to work with this administration and the dollars that they help provide so that we can move our city forward. This is one investment that the city gets but we need a lot more investment.”