Flanagan tries to discourage bus hearings

Second round of route changes should include public comment, lawmakers say

General Assembly

March 15, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan warned lawmakers yesterday that forcing the Maryland Transit Administration to hold more public hearings before it launches the second phase of its bus initiative could delay the route changes for up to a year.

But transit advocates, including one who labeled the first phase of the Ehrlich administration's Greater Baltimore Bus Initiative a "disaster," countered that the public has never had an opportunity to comment on some of the changes the MTA is proposing for June 11.

In a hearing before the House Environmental Matters Committee, Flanagan and his critics butted heads over how much public input is needed before more bus route changes are put into effect.

A bill that would require a new round of public bus hearings, introduced by three delegates from Northwest Baltimore, started out largely as a way to get Flanagan to pay attention to complaints about the elimination of a popular route along Gwynn Oak Avenue. But the proposal has taken on a life of its own. Language requiring hearings has found its way into both the House and Senate budget bills.

Flanagan emphasized yesterday that he is willing to work out problems outside the formal public hearing process. "We are more than willing to work with any member of the legislature or any community to perfect a consensus," he said.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg and Del. Nathaniel Oaks, both Democrats, gave Flanagan credit for his willingness to work with them to address concerns about the abolition of the M6 line. But Oaks said Flanagan's offer of pared-down, weekday-only service did not satisfy the community.

"M6 is one of those issues of controversy that is keeping us from a total consensus," Flanagan conceded.

Transit advocates contended that the issue of hearings goes beyond the restoration of service to one route.

Edward Cohen, president of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore, said the second phase of the bus initiative includes changes that were not raised during the six public hearings held before the first phase was launched in October.

"We need public hearings on what is proposed now - especially since it is different," Cohen said.

Supporting Cohen's stand was Baltimore Transportation Director Alfred H. Foxx Jr., whose boss is seeking to displace Flanagan's boss in the November election.

Foxx, who works for Mayor Martin O'Malley, said public hearings would "close the loop" on the process of getting community input.

But public hearings could also give people such as Northwest Baltimore's Quinton Hill an outlet to vent frustrations with the first phase of the bus initiative. "They call them improvements. They're not improvements to the working class," Hill told lawmakers.

Flanagan got support from one citizen witness, who said he found much to like in the bus initiative and didn't see the need for more hearings. "It would be time-consuming and consuming of funds. It would be money spent on nothing," said Barker B. Much of Essex.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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