Carroll's mass transit needs reviewed at meeting with MTA

State seeks suggestions on transportation projects

November 11, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll residents have repeatedly rejected plans to bring public transportation to the county, but state transportation officials have defined a need and continue to make a case for mass transit.

Mass Transit Administration officials met with about 30 county administrators and residents in Westminster last night. They reviewed a proposed 20-year Transit Master Plan and asked for suggestions to improve local transportation. Similar sessions are taking place across the state.

"This is our first attempt to produce specific local projects and give a statewide perspective," said Harvey S. Zelefsky, MTA planning manager. "What we hear in these meetings will be put into our final plan."

A 33-page report published by the MTA says the need for public transportation will continue to increase, particularly in rural areas. Mass transit "meets critical and basic mobility needs, gets people to jobs and supports economic development and eases congestion on our highways," the report says.

Many of the report's recommendations stem from forums held throughout the state last year, and more than 2,500 interviews. The MTA would like to triple transit service in Western and Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

Statewide use of buses and trains is projected to nearly double by 2020, to 1 million riders, an increase from the 570,000 trips a day now, one of the highest totals in the country. The Transit Advisory Panel, of which Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan is a member, focused on "what will be the mobility challenges in 2020," said Zelefsky.

In the next two decades, Maryland's population is expected to increase by 20 percent, with an 81 percent increase in the over-60 age group. The elderly are most likely to rely on public transportation.

"I am concerned about the county's ability to meet the needs of older commuters," said Jan Flora, chief of the county Bureau on Aging. "It has to be affordable. For older adults on fixed incomes, even a dollar a trip can be a burden."

Jobs are projected to grow by 25 percent, producing a 65 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled daily.

"Imagine that on Route 140," said Zelefsky. Route 140 is one of the county's three major arteries.

Yowan suggested an express bus from Westminster into Baltimore, rather than one that would drop passengers at the Owings Mills Metro station, where more than 60 percent of the vehicles parked daily are owned by Carroll residents, according to a county traffic study.

"Today, it is all about convenience," Yowan said. "For transit to work, you need regular schedules and frequent service."

In rural areas, MTA might have to increase ridership through locally operated systems such as Carroll Transit. The private, nonprofit company based in Westminster primarily serves the elderly and disabled.

More than half of Carroll's workers leave the county every day for jobs in other cities and counties. Main roads are snarled at rush hours, but residents have consistently opposed the extension of bus or rail lines into the county.

"Every time I have brought up mass transit, I have gotten beaten up," said Yowan.

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