Terminal stupidity

July 23, 2004

ON AVERAGE, 83 buses roll into Baltimore's new Greyhound terminal off Russell Street in Carroll-Camden each day. Some are Greyhound. Some are Carolina Trailways. But none of the buses belongs to the Maryland Transit Administration. State-owned transit buses are stopping two blocks away, a significant distance for those toting luggage. It's a ridiculous situation that easily could have been prevented.

The Haines Street station opened officially this week, but it's been serving Greyhound customers since June 24, when the company had to vacate its West Fayette Street terminal.

It's a temporary home. Greyhound, city planners and yes, even the MTA, have been discussing this move for several years. The Greyhound terminal's permanent location will be just a block away, but all involved expect it will be at least three years before it's built.

Greyhound, the city and the MTA hired a consultant to study potential bus terminal sites. Carroll-Camden was the top choice. Greyhound officials say they like it because it's close to Interstate 95, decreasing what they call the "wheel cost" of their operation. Officials at the Baltimore Development Corp. like it because they see a bus terminal playing a role in the redevelopment of the Russell Street corridor.

But Robert L. Flanagan, the state's transportation secretary, doesn't like it. He calls the decision to locate it there "stupid." He says MTA buses can't get easy access to the terminal. Buses going south on Russell can't make a left turn on Haines (there isn't a break in the median barrier). Buses also must cross a CSX railroad track - and could be held up by 20-minute waits. He thinks the station should have been located next to Penn Station, where it would have been closer to downtown Baltimore and more convenient to public transportation.

He's correct on at least one count - Carroll-Camden isn't the ideal choice for a bus station. But it's not a bad choice. It was a compromise - and one that was worked out by the mayor, city business leaders, neighborhood groups and Greyhound. Even MTA officials admit they've been aware of the temporary site since last fall. Why couldn't these problems have been worked out by now? This isn't rocket science. It may require new neighborhood parking rules or creating a curb cut or introducing a new shuttle bus to serve the station, but these are not extraordinary measures.

It's a classic example of how the city and the MTA don't work well together. It's a problem that predates the arrival of Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But Mr. Flanagan's political pot-shots, particularly when it's his own agency that has failed to devise a solution to a relatively simple problem, just make matters worse.

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