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Baltimore County on Thursday was awarded $1.65 million in a federal grant for a proposed Towson Circulator, a free bus that would connect areas of downtown Towson.

The award, announced by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes, will help pay for buses, equipment and workforce development for a Towson Circulator pilot program, county officials said. The money comes from a competitive grant process within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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"Maintaining a safe, reliable and convenient public transit system is critical to Baltimore County, and we will continue working to expand and modernize transportation systems throughout Maryland,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s administration requested the money from the Department of Transportation and was supported by the county’s congressional delegation. Olszewski’s fiscal year 2020 budget includes $100,000 in planning money for a Towson Circulator. The total amount of money granted to Baltimore County is $1,651,720, according to Van Hollen’s office.

Officials have said previously that a pilot program for the circulator could be in place by 2021. County spokesman Sean Naron said Thursday that the county expects to begin Towson Circulator service by late 2020.

Van Hollen, in a letter dated June 2019, told Secretary Elaine Chao that he “strongly support[s]" the circulator project, and said it would “provide increased transit connectivity for thousands of riders" and enhance “economic development and job access opportunities.”

The Towson Circulator was first studied by The Greater Towson Committee in 2015, and County Councilman David Marks, who represents the Towson area, has been supportive of the idea since then. The circulator, which would be a free bus route that connects areas of downtown Towson, is modeled after the Charm City Circulator in Baltimore.

“We need road resurfacing, but in Towson, there are simply no more roads without condemning businesses and homes,” Marks said Thursday. “You need fewer cars on the road, and to maximize traffic better.”

As proposed, the circulator would connect hubs in Towson, including Towson University, Goucher College, local hospitals and the Towson Town Center mall.

In a statement, Olszewski said, "The Towson Circulator will be a critical project that will better connect residents between where they live, work, study and play,”

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, called the proposed Towson Circulator a boon for local economic development.

“We’re going to be a real new community in the next couple of years. It’s thriving, and I’m so excited,” Hafford said. “You can’t have development without having a better transportation system.”

Olszewski’s budget also includes plans to expand the circulator bus concept to other population centers in the county. Earlier estimates for the Towson program put the initial capital cost at between $1.4 million and $2 million; the annual operating costs were estimated at between $2.4 million and 3.4 million.

Other grant awards for Maryland were announced Thursday, including $850,000 for the Shore Transit Project on the Eastern Shore, $76,500 for the St. Mary’s Transit System Project, $11,040,000 for the Metrobus/Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and $248,000 for the Delmarva Community Services Project.

This story may be updated.

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