State legislators representing Catonsville took aim at the proposed BaltimoreLink transit network during a session with area business leaders Thursday afternoon.
BaltimoreLink, announced in October 2015 and set to launch next summer, is a proposed revamped network of high-frequency bus routes into downtown Baltimore and local routes in suburban communities that connect to them.
Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat representing the state's 12th district, which includes Catonsville, Arbutus, Baltimore Highlands and Lansdowne, said the system will be a temporary solution, at best.
"It's a nice logo and there are going to be a few differences, but we're not going to notice them significantly," he said at a luncheon of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce.
"This nothing as revolutionary as having an east-to-west mass transit Red Line, which I think would've been a huge economic driver," Ebersole said.
The Red Line is a proposed $2.9 billion, 14-mile east-west light rail line that would have connected Woodlawn and Bayview that was scuttled by Gov. Larry Hogan, who questioned its costs and benefits when weighed against other transit needs in the state.
Ebersole said there may have been potential for the line to expand to Tradepoint Atlantic, the site of the former Bethlehem Steel mill in Sparrows Point, where a potential 6,000 to 7,000 jobs may be formed as the area is redeveloped.
Del. Pat Young, a Democrat representing district 44B, which covers parts of Catonsville, Woodlawn and Paradise, said a dozen years of planning for the Red Line project were wiped out in a four-month period in 2015 by Hogan.
"[It's] unacceptable without an explanation and we still don't have one, other than it didn't meet a mysterious cost-affordability measure that was not shared with us," he said. "I'll leave it at that."
Young echoed concerns about how future Tradepoint Atlantic area employees would be able to use mass transit.
"It's not going to be through BaltimoreLink," he said. "It is on our minds, though."
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said BaltimoreLink is a solution to a bus system that hasn't been improved in nearly 50 years, not an alternative to the Red Line.
"The Red Line did not move forward for two main reasons," he said. "It included a billion-dollar bridge in the heart of the project, a significant fatal flaw, and did not connect in any productive way to any existing modes of transit."
The $900 million in federal funding that was said to be allocated for the Red Line project is now being used for a project in Colorado, Ebersole said.
"The problem is set back 20 to 25 years in establishing the Red Line," he said.
Del. Terri Hill, a Democrat who represents the 12th district, said she has been hearing mixed reviews of the BaltimoreLink system.
She renewed her criticism of the Maryland Transit Administration's public workshop on BaltimoreLink at the Arbutus library branch in August, a location with no access to public transportation.
In June, the MTA launched four express bus routes, including Route 107, which goes from Old Court Metro station to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport train station, through Catonsville.
"People aren't sure that it's achieving efficiencies it's supposed to achieve because the roads are still crowded," she said.
Last month, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz asked that state transportation planners look into a rail or rapid transit bus link starting from Woodlawn and ending at Lexington Market in Baltimore, where riders can connect to Metro subway and light rail systems.
Kamenetz wrote in a letter to the state's transportation secretary that it could be an opportunity to give more people access to mass transit — particularly the more than 10,000 employees of the Social Security Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the FBI offices in Woodlawn — and not require a costly tunnel for the Red Line.
"While potential improvements to the bus system will benefit existing riders, we also believe that a comprehensive mass transit strategy must attract new riders – those choice riders who must be persuaded to give up their use of automobiles – if we truly want to relieve gridlock in our region," he wrote.
The proposed BaltimoreLink system creates 12 color-coded CityLink routes designed to help eliminate bottlenecks in downtown Baltimore and better connect passengers to subway and light rail stops — two of which will serve southwest Baltimore County.
Select service for the Yellow Line will start at the Halethorpe MARC commuter rail station and terminate at the Mondawmin Metro station, serving stops that are on current routes 5, 36 and 91. The Purple Line will effectively replace current Route 10 and have select service start at Rolling Road and Route 40 and full service start at Paradise Loop. Service terminates at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
A series of LocalLink routes will provide connections to CityLink routes, Metro and light rail networks that will typically run every half hour during peak periods.
Eight LocalLink routes and two Express BusLink routes are proposed to serve the Catonsville and Arbutus areas. The existing bus network in the district has nine local bus routes and two express bus routes.