Baltimore’s entire Metro SubwayLink system will remain closed for a month, the Maryland Transit Administration announced Sunday, after safety inspections showed sections of track needed emergency repairs that couldn’t wait until this summer.
Gov. Larry Hogan has set aside $2.2 million in emergency funding to run free coach buses for passengers along the subway’s route in addition to the normal MTA bus routes, the MTA said Sunday.
The MTA shut the system down on Friday for a safety evaluation after discovering an urgent need for repairs on sections of the aboveground northwest leg of the system between the Owings Mills and West Cold Spring stations. Sunday’s decision expanded the closing to the entire system, which has 14 stations and more than 40,000 riders on a typical weekday.
“While I understand the inconvenience, safety will always be our top priority,” MTA CEO Kevin Quinn said Sunday. “We don’t take any risks with our riders.”
The track needed to be replaced sooner than the scheduled replacement this summer, Quinn said.
Starting Monday, the free shuttle buses — or “bus bridge,” as the MTA calls them — will begin at 5 a.m. and run until midnight on weekdays, and from 6 a.m. until midnight on weekends.
An “express bus bridge” will make stops at Owings Mills, Milford Mill, Mondawmin, State Center, Charles Center and Johns Hopkins during weekday peak hours — from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m.
Barakat Muhammad, 49, doubted whether buses can effectively replace the subway routes. “Even if you get 20 buses,” he said, the heavy traffic on roadways would mean they wouldn’t run as fast as the subway.
The barbershop owner, who lives in East Baltimore and takes the subway six days a week, was irritated by a lack of communication from the Maryland Department of Transportation on the closure.
“They should have gave people warning,” he said. The first day, he said, “everyone was in a frenzy,” trying to figure out alternate means of transportation.
Sitting on a bench downtown, Elizabeth Augustusel, 56, was stoic about the closure. “We just have to be patient,” she said. While the system was closed, she would take the bus.
“Repairs need to be repaired. I know they’re not going to endanger our lives.”
When Ivan Pratt, 28, couldn’t take the Metro, he decided to walk more than an hour from Reisterstown Road Plaza to the McDonald’s in downtown Baltimore, where he was hanging out with friends Sunday evening. When he learned that the closure had extended to an entire month, he dropped his head into his hands. How would he get his daughter to day care? he wondered.
Quinn declined to describe the problems on the deteriorating tracks, but said they were not rusted or cracked. He referred to them as having undergone “normal wear and tear.” It’s not yet clear how much the repairs will cost.
“The part that’s above ground, on the elevated sections, it’s exposed completely to the elements, and it has been for 36 years,” Quinn said. “There’s 36 years of wear and tear on it.”
The single-line, 15.5-mile heavy rail system runs above ground from Owings Mills to Mondawmin and underground between Mondawmin and Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“We spent Friday and Saturday doing a thorough inspection of the tunnel section because we wanted to do a check of the entire system,” Quinn said. “There were additional sections that have some wear and tear on them as well. We’re going to be replacing them.”
Quinn told The Baltimore Sun on Friday that there are no signs that past neglect caused the current problems.
The system closed for 23 days between Milford Mill and Mondawmin stations in the summer of 2016 for “critical maintenance work.” During that time, many riders complained about being relegated to yellow school buses.
That’s one complaint the MTA doesn’t expect to hear this time around. The agency has used the emergency funds allocated by the governor to contract coach buses from Hanover-based Dillon’s Bus Service and National Express Coaches, Quinn said.
“They’ll find it’s still a nice ride downtown,” Quinn said.
A partial reopening could come earlier than March 11 as sections of track are repaired, the MTA said.
In a statement in the MTA release, Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh thanked the governor for funding the buses.
“It is important that we do everything possible to mitigate the inconvenience of prolonged disruption of the Metro SubwayLink service,” Pugh said.
As the rain started up again, Shannon Moke, 21, began walking down the steps to the Lexington Market stop when she saw the gate pulled down, a sign saying the stop was closed. The light rail and subway are usually more consistent than the buses, which are often delayed, Moke said.
To Moke, the monthlong closure was just more evidence that the city doesn’t prioritize the needs of the people who live in it.
“This city got all this money for hotels,” she said, but not enough to ensure the transportation can run well. Riders should boycott, she said. For now, she said, she’ll ask a friend for a ride.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.