Baltimore County wants to create several transit routes throughout the county, but officials say state support for such projects lags far behind investment in surrounding counties.
“We can’t fully realize that vision for transportation in Baltimore County without a more sustained support and partnership from our state partners,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. told Maryland Department of Transportation officials during a hearing on the state’s proposed transportation plan.
The Dundalk Democrat is already looking beyond the county’s Towson Circulator project — the jurisdiction’s first free bus system connecting parts of the county seat, set to launch Oct. 12. The circulator pilot is funded for just a year with some state and federal support. Olszewski urged state leaders to invest more to sustain the program.
The county also wants to establish free bus routes in other areas, such as Owings Mills, Catonsville, Middle River, Sparrows Point or White Marsh, and wants planning money from the state to do so, Olszewski said.
“We do believe circulators play a critical role in our county’s future,” he said, adding that it would support the economy and help people who don’t have access to transportation.
And the county is in “dire need,” according to an April letter to state Transportation Secretary Greg Slater, “of a comprehensive regional transit system” with more investment in locally operated bus routes.
Slater did not address the county’s concerns during Wednesday’s meeting. A spokesman for the state transportation department did not respond to a request for comment.
County officials say Baltimore County is underfunded compared to transit priorities in other large jurisdictions, even as the state transportation department invests millions in highway and roadway improvements within and around the county.
The county, for instance, received one payment of about $421,000 this fiscal year to operate its CountyRide transit program, which can be requested by older adults and people with disabilities, county spokesman Sean Naron said.
Anne Arundel County got around $1 million, Prince George’s County got $10.3 million and Montgomery County was given $29.9 million for transit operating costs, the county noted. Those localities have far more transit options than the Baltimore suburbs.
“Our requests are rather modest compared to what other counties have received,” Olszewski said.
Maryland has budgeted $6.8 billion for statewide transit costs.
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The county wants the state department to kick in $200,000 to start planning more bus routes. Officials also want the state to help fund an additional “microtransit” route in Owings Mills, which officials envision would operate similarly to the pilot project in Towson.
Representatives of Maryland’s transit, port, highways, airport, motor vehicle and tolled facilities agencies updated local elected officials at the meeting on major initiatives underway in Baltimore County, from long-sought improvements at the Interstate 795 and Dolfield Boulevard interchange to $25 million for various bridge decks, and a $13 million intersection project at Harford and Joppa roads in Parkville.
Also, Baltimore County is one of the metropolitan jurisdictions included in the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan, a 25-year plan to add public transportation options in the area. Transportation officials are considering two new corridors — a north-south route between Towson and downtown Baltimore and an east-west route between Bayview through downtown Baltimore to greater Ellicott City in Howard County.
As Maryland travel volumes recover from a protracted COVID-19 pandemic that reduced transportation revenues in Maryland and nationwide, the state Department of Transportation is proposing to devote roughly half the upcoming budget — $8.2 billion — to preserving aging infrastructure, Slater said.
The 2022-2027 budget, which will be presented to the General Assembly during the legislative session next year, contains $1.2 billion in new federal stimulus money, Slater said.
The state transportation department has scheduled budget briefings with other jurisdictions through Nov. 16, including Harford County on Oct. 18, Carroll County on Oct. 21 and Anne Arundel County on Nov. 9. Briefings were held earlier in Baltimore City and Howard County.
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.