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Altered bus routes draw criticism More areas served, but parts of Columbia will be excluded; Plans go to PSC; Fiscal restraints limit efforts, say local officials


Howard County's new bus routes are expected to be faster and serve more areas of the county when they go into effect at the end of next month, but they're already drawing fire from some riders who complain that the routes don't serve enough of Columbia's neighborhoods.

The plans for the routes -- part of the county's new bus system, called the Howard Area Transit Service (HATS) -- are expected to be approved soon by the state's Public Service Commission.

County officials are revamping Howard's public transportation system to expand service to such areas as the U.S. 1 corridor and the Gateway Industrial Park, which have a high demand for bus service by low-income and elderly residents.

But the new system -- a replacement for the ColumBUS service, which the Columbia Association ended June 30 -- is under fiscal constraints. And transportation officials are trying to do more with less.

As a result, many Columbia neighborhoods that were once served by ColumBUS will not be on the new bus routes.

Long Reach resident Richard McCloud, 55, is among those who will be hurt by the route changes.

"I am totally blind," said McCloud, who has relied on ColumBUS since he moved to Columbia in January 1972. "If they cut routes through the neighborhoods, it's just cutting my transportation to village centers."

McCloud said it would take him an hour to reach the Long Reach village center from his home, and he would have to cross busy streets, which could endanger his life. "It would just be disastrous," he said.

Transportation officials are sympathetic, but said there isn't enough money to meet everyone's public transportation needs. "Obviously, you can't serve everyone," said Ray Ambrose, project administrator for the Corridor Transportation Corp., a Laurel company that designed and is managing the new HATS bus system. "But the wide spread area of the county is better served."

Added county transportation planning chief Carl Balser: "Given the funding constraints, we couldn't expand any further. We would have liked to serve more areas of the county, but I think we have hit the areas of primary demand."

Under the new route system, buses will serve eight village centers -- excluding Dorsey's Search -- and such major destinations as Howard County General Hospital, The Mall, Howard Community College and the county government building.

In addition, buses will go to the Elkridge library, the senior center and other places along U.S. 1. The system also will include service to the Normandy Heights and Nob Hill areas of Ellicott City, which previously were not served.

The county Public Transportation Board approved the routes July 30, and they were forwarded to the state Public Service Commission Aug. 16. It takes 30 to 40 days for the commission to sign off on such a project.

Although the routes sent to the commission aren't likely to change before they're implemented, transportation officials said they will continue to seek residents' comments about the system to make adjustments in the future.

Here is a description of routes for the HATS system:

Yellow: A 56-minute trip from The Mall in Columbia to the county government building in Ellicott City. The Yellow bus takes Little Patuxent Parkway to Columbia Road north. It then travels east on Route 108 to Route 100. From Route 100, it takes U.S. 29 to Ellicott City with stops along Main Street.

Purple: A 28-minute trip from the county government building to the Normandy Heights and Nob Hill communities in Ellicott City. The Purple bus takes Courthouse Drive to Rogers Avenue into the Normandy Heights neighborhood. It then travels west on Route 40 to Nob Hill, picking up Old Frederick Road back to the county government building.

Orange: A 25-minute trip from The Mall in Columbia to Howard County General Hospital. The Orange bus takes Broken Land Parkway to Martin Road. It travels along Quarter Staff Road to the Hickory Ridge Village Center. It then goes north on Sunny Spring and Hickory Ridge Road. From Hickory Ridge Road, it takes Little Patuxent Parkway to Howard County General Hospital and then returns to The Mall.

Blue: A 57-minute trip from the Gateway Industrial Park to Elkridge. The Blue bus takes Old Waterloo Road to U.S. 1. It takes Ducketts Lane to Bauman Drive. From Bauman Drive, it travels along Hunt Club Road and back to U.S. 1 north. On the return trip, the bus takes Old Baltimore-Washington Boulevard to Hanover Road. It picks up Loudon Avenue and passes through the Harwood Park community. Leaving Harwood Park, the Blue bus returns to Gateway via U.S. 1.

Red: An 88-minute trip from The Mall to the Gateway Industrial Park. The Red bus travels Little Patuxent Parkway to Tamar Drive. From Tamar, it travels Dobbin Road to Snowden River Parkway and then to Robert Fulton Drive. It follows the same route back to The Mall.

Green: A 28-minute trip from the The Mall to Howard Community College. The Green bus travels Twin Rivers Road to Harpers Farm Road. It picks up Cedar Lane, stopping at Howard County General Hospital and then Howard Community College via Little Patuxent Parkway. On its return trip, the bus uses Harpers Farm Road back to Twin Rivers Road and The Mall.

Brown: A 57-minute trip from Oakland Mills village to Guilford. Starting at the Columbia Medical Plan, the Brown bus travels on Thunder Hill Road to Stevens Forest Road. It picks up Oakland Mills Road and then Guilford Road to Old Columbia Road, stopping at the Rivers Corporate Park. The bus returns to the Columbia Medical Plan following the same route.

On Saturdays, the Red and Blue routes are combined for a one hour and 55-minute trip. The system is supplemented by an existing Connect-A-Ride route that serves the Savage and North Laurel areas.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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