Maryland agency offers ticket to ride

Money available to help increase transit ridership

October 05, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Maryland transportation officials traveled to Carroll yesterday with the promise of state money to expand local bus service, but county officials expressed little interest despite increasing commuter traffic on major roads.

Nearly $3 million in state transportation funds became available in July for Western Maryland counties, including Carroll. Other Maryland counties have expanded bus hours and routes.

"The ultimate goal is to double ridership by 2020," said Darlene DeMario, regional planner with the Maryland Transit Administration, during a meeting with the county commissioners yesterday. "There is money to extend existing hours and routes or start new services."

With more money, Carroll Transit, the county's only public transportation system, could add daily service from Westminster to Eldersburg. It also could buy a bus to add to its fleet of 27, which provided more than 100,000 rides last year. Most of its passengers are elderly or disabled or have limited incomes.

"There is definitely a demand for a line from Westminster to South Carroll," said Neal Roop, executive director of Carroll Transit. "It would also cut down on ridership time."

MTA is moving forward with plans to establish a commuter route from Mount Airy in southwest Carroll to the Shady Grove Metro station in Montgomery County. A public information meeting on that proposal is scheduled at 8 p.m. Oct. 17 at Mount Airy Senior Center.

If enough people are interested, MTA will schedule a public hearing in South Carroll to discuss a similar service to the Owings Mills Metro. A small commuter bus would make limited runs at peak hours only.

"MTA could give preliminary costs, determine ridership potential and back the project with dollars," DeMario said. "This has to be endorsed by the county. We are there to help, not to encourage. We look at the options with you."

Given the increasing traffic on Route 140, consideration also should be given to a route from Westminster to Owings Mills, Roop said. More than 55,000 vehicles a day travel Route 140 through Westminster, and plans for a bypass around the city were scrapped two years ago.

In Eldersburg, about 44,000 vehicles a day travel Route 26. The state and county are spending millions of dollars to improve the highway with the possibility of adding lanes, medians and landscaping.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said that any service extended beyond the county should be limited to peak hours and smaller commuter buses.

"Citizens here don't want large buses," she said.

DeMario replied, "They are not coming to Carroll."

Many existing transit systems are implementing new services with the state funding. Southern Maryland has added six new bus routes. Cecil County is carrying more passengers and has expanded its routes. Annapolis, Bel Air and Columbia have added buses.

In other business yesterday, the commissioners developed priorities for the Maryland Department of Transportation to consider during a tour of the county Oct. 17. Among those are improvements to intersections along Route 140 in Westminster and Finksburg and along Route 30 in Manchester. Carroll will make another pitch for a Manchester bypass, a project the state scrapped in 1999, saying it would promote sprawl. The board also approved a $111,000 loan to Union Bridge Fire Company to buy a $125,000 ambulance.

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