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Bus lanes a priority in $22 million grant touted by Buttigieg to improve Baltimore public transit

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg returned to Baltimore on Tuesday to tout a $22 million transit grant that state and local officials said will include 10 miles of critically-needed, dedicated bus lanes.

“I think the bus lanes are really, really a priority,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater following a news briefing at Library Square in East Baltimore with Buttigieg, Mayor Brandon Scott, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and other officials.

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Slater said bus-lane improvement work will be completed in pieces and “you’ll start to see those coming out. They’re really working through the communities and understanding where the paint will go and the bus lanes will go.”

The funding is part of a competitive grant program promoted by the Biden administration called Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE. The program is distributing about $1 billion across nearly every state.

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The transit improvements will be made along an east-west route extending from the Fox Ridge community in eastern Baltimore County, through the city, and to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in western Baltimore County.

Along the way, the route includes Eastpoint Mall, Johns Hopkins Bayview, Library Square, downtown Baltimore, Harlem Park and Edmondson Village, according to the grant application in July from the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transit Administration.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg celebrates a $22 million grant for Baltimore’s East-West Priority Corridor project with city and state officials, including from left, Del. Brooke Lierman, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Steve Sharkey, Director of Baltimore DOT, and Mayor Brandon Scott, during a press conference at Library Square on East Fayette St. In Highlandtown.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg celebrates a $22 million grant for Baltimore’s East-West Priority Corridor project with city and state officials, including from left, Del. Brooke Lierman, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Steve Sharkey, Director of Baltimore DOT, and Mayor Brandon Scott, during a press conference at Library Square on East Fayette St. In Highlandtown. (Amy Davis)

In addition to new bus lanes, the grant will fund signaling to prioritize transit, and enhancements to pedestrian and bike safety.

“It’s about getting people to where they need to go faster and more efficiently,” Scott said during the briefing, held in the square on a chilly morning with an MTA bus as the backdrop. “It’s about doing that in a way that says that we don’t have to live in a city anymore where we’re only worried about those who drive.”

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Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was also in the city over the summer to promote Democratic President Joe Biden’s recently signed $1.2 trillion infrastructure package at the Port of Baltimore.

The package includes a big boost for the RAISE program, said Van Hollen, who had been pushing for increased transit money.

“The fund just got replenished in a big way,” the senator said in an interview.

Buttigieg said public transit has been historically underfunded.

“We’ve been facing the consequences of underinvestment in transit for years, for decades, even though we have learned from experience that transit benefits everybody,” Buttigieg said. “We’re seeing right here that it makes a difference in everyday life for people in Baltimore trying to get to where they need to be.”

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