New bus route to connect Harford, Cecil counties

Increasing gas prices, tolls made taking the bus a more popular option

January 09, 2012|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Commuters between Harford and Cecil counties will soon have a public transit option for crossing the Susquehanna River, one with a fare that is $4 less than the toll motorists pay to use the bridge.

Maryland Transit Administration and county officials launched the first inter-county public transportation route Monday with the oldest crossing, an aging railroad bridge, and the newest transit bus models from each county in the background.

"Two jurisdictions have partnered for the first time to bring this great opportunity to their citizens," said Elizabeth Kreider, MTA director of local transit support.

For years, commuters have asked for a bus line across the Hatem Bridge connecting the two counties. As gas prices increased and the state raised the toll to $6, the demand for public transportation grew louder and taking the bus became even more attractive, officials said.

"A lot of people have been asking for this for a long time," said Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne H. Doughtery. "This is a real positive for both counties."

The Teal Line or Route No. 7 will run nine daily round trips between Aberdeen in Harford County and Perryville in Cecil County. The bus will make several stops along the U.S. 40 and Route 7 corridors and will connect to existing transit hubs in both counties, such as the Aberdeen and Perryville train stations.

"There has been a high demand for years, but we never had the funding," said Elizabeth S. Hendrix, director of community services in Harford County. "Local job growth and a federal grant gave us the opportunity we needed."

Funding from the federal Job Access and Reverse Commute program will pay operational costs for the line's first two years. Harford matched $69,000 in JARC funds and Cecil contributed $66,000 to the grant. The program was designed to provide low-income wage earners public access to job centers, such as the Perryville Outlet Center, the Hollywood Casino Perryville and the Perry Point Veterans Affairs Center.

"This route will get a lot of use right away," said Kevin Racine, a public transit advocate who lives in Havre de Grace. "I hope it builds from its start here all the way to Elkton."

The line will be particularly beneficial to veterans seeking transportation to the VA hospital at Perry Point, visible across the river from the news conference, Racine said.

As Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County has expanded through the nationwide military base realignment, many of the nearly 10,000 new job holders have settled in Cecil County and may make use of the new route, said Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a Havre de Grace resident.

"This continues to help our residents with access to jobs and health care," Craig said. "There was a ferry crossing in 1695 and a railroad bridge in 1866, but crossing for pedestrians has been an issue for a much longer time. Public transportation to help get people across has been long awaited."

Drivers and dispatchers are still training on the new route, but plans call for the buses to begin their runs early next month, officials said.

"The war against tolls brought the counties together in this joint venture that is a win-win for all of us," said James T. Mullin, president of the Cecil County Board of Commissioners.

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