ANNAPOLIS — On Thursday, the Maryland House Subcommittee on Transportation and the Environment was briefed on BaltimoreLink, a $135 million investment that aims to improve transit in the surrounding Baltimore area by adding additional color-coded bus routes, among other changes.
Announced by Gov. Larry Hogan last October, the plan would redesign existing local and express bus routes while implementing 12 new color-coded ones in an attempt to better connect Baltimore residents with job opportunities and health care.
The plan is seen by many as a way for Hogan to compensate for canceling construction of the Red Line light rail project, an east-west system that was set to be completed by early 2022.
“We are basically creating a beltway across the city with bus routes,” said Paul Comfort, the administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, noting that riders can use a single-day pass that allows them transfer between buses and other modes of public transportation, like the Baltimore Metro.
Riders can expect a bus on one of the 12 new high-frequency routes — called CityLink — to arrive every 10 to 12 minutes, Comfort said.
According to the Department of Transportation website, 745,000 more jobs will be accessible after BaltimoreLink is completed, and 205,000 additional people will be able to use the “high-frequency transit” portion — a 34 percent increase over the current system.
Another portion of the plan involves equipping city transit vehicles with optical emitters, devices that are picked up by detectors at some intersections and streets, allowing traffic lights to turn green or red and quicken travel times.
“They did this in L.A. and other congested cities and it improved their travel times by 25 percent,” Comfort said. “So a route that would take an hour would now only take 45 minutes.”
The plan also involves hiring additional transit police to increase rider safety and more custodial staff to improve the cleanliness of transit vehicles by reducing food and trash.
Despite a significant increase in the number of bus routes and stops, Baltimore City residents with children in public school will not have to worry about the discontinuation of other bus routes. All 33 public schools that benefit from bus shuttles will maintain those services after BaltimoreLink is fully implemented, according to the Department of Transportation website.
A major overhaul of signs and maps — which includes uniform signs for public transportation — is also planned to help riders navigate the growing system.
“The signage in Baltimore is not good,” Comfort said, laughing. “We are going to replace all the signs. We are going to redesign our sign system to do what all cutting-edge cities do — which is giving information on the sign.”
Despite Comfort’s enthusiastic demeanor as he briefed the committee on the progress of BaltimoreLink, some delegates had reservations about the plan.
“One of my problems with this system is that it seems to have been developed in a month,” said Delegate Brooke Elizabeth Lierman, D-Baltimore, noting her concern about the ambiguity of where the bus stops will be located.
Other delegates, however, felt Comfort’s passion.
“I have to admit this is the most exciting transportation briefing I have ever been to,” said Delegate Aruna Miller, D-Montgomery County.
“I’m a pro-transit Republican,” Comfort quipped.
Public hearings for BaltimoreLink are planned for this March, Comfort said, and a new service connecting job centers is planned to be operational by June. CityLink and altered local bus routes are set to be operational by June 2017, according to the state’s transit administration.