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Developers eye impact of Baltimore bus system overhaul




Kevin Quinn, the MTA’s acting CEO and administrator, told Baltimore business leaders Wednesday that the state is working with developers to make sure projects have the infrastructure to accommodate mass transportation. (Bryan P. Sears)

The success or failure of the overhaul of Baltimore’s bus system has implications beyond the convenience of commuters.

Major developments in and around Baltimore, such as Tradepoint Atlantic and Port Covington, are depending on the Maryland Transit Administration to get employees to those sites in a timely and reliable fashion, a task the city’s current mass transit system has been failing at for decades.

“’Where’s our labor force coming from and how do we get them here?’ (That) is the second or third question we get (from potential tenants),” Aaron Tomarchio, an executive at Tradepoint Atlantic, said.

Tradepoint Atlantic intends to transform the former steel making site at Sparrows Point in eastern Baltimore County into a 3,100 acre multimodal transportation hub. The project, which already has tenants including Under Armour FedEx Corp., calls for more than $2 billion in investment by the time buildout is expected to be complete in 2025.

On Sunday, the MTA rolled out its overhaul of city’s bus system called BaltimoreLink. The $135 million redesign is aimed at making sure buses arrive on time, cut down on the length of trips and improve customer service.

Kevin Quinn, the MTA’s acting CEO and administrator, briefed Baltimore business leaders about BaltimoreLink during the Greater Baltimore Committee’s newsmaker breakfast Wednesday morning. He said the state is working with developers to make sure projects have the infrastructure to accommodate mass transportation.

“There are so many places around the region, frankly that are not built for transit,” Quinn said.

With BaltimoreLink, the state set out to alter and streamline bus routes to better serve employment centers and link up with regional mass transit systems. Improvements to the system include bus-only lanes through downtown to clear up bottlenecks and increased bus frequency of certain routes.

The MTA is already experimenting with signal priority for buses on a few corridors, and the state plans on installing new bus-tracking technology to provide riders real-time information during the next two and a half years.

Transportation advocates have been critical of the BaktimoreLink plan. While they acknowledge upgrades to the city’s bus system are needed, groups such as 1,000 Friends of Maryland contend BaltimoreLink should be part of a larger investment in regional mass transit, pointing to the $2.9 billion Red Line light rail project canceled by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Advocates for greater mass transit investment in Baltimore have identified extremely long commute times from many economically disadvantaged areas of the city to job centers, such as the Amazon fulfillment center in east Baltimore. Before the launch of BaltimoreLink, the commute via bus from the facility to certain parts of west Baltimore could take hours.

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