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Md. counties launch regional transportation agency

Sunday - 3/30/2014, 2:23am  ET

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Officials from Howard and Anne Arundel Counties break ground on new transit center for buses in Annapolis Junction, Md. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

Audio: key metro counties forge transportation pact

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WASHINGTON --At a groundbreaking for a new transit center, Howard County and Anne Arundel County Executives announced a new partnership to form a regional transportation agency.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman made the announcement shortly after their county ended a decades-long contract with an non-profit company that runs Central Maryland Regional Transit (CMRT) buses. Anne Arundel County becomes the second county to also join the venture, with the idea that bringing services in-house will help save taxpayers money.

"We are essentially caught in the middle, sometimes in no man's land, between the Baltimore regional transportation system and the Metro system. This will help provide that connective tissue so that people can move throughout the region with different options for transportation," says Ulman.

"We do have a great MARC service, including later hours and weekend service on the Penn Line. This is a very important piece of that puzzle because this will help us run our local bus system more effectively and efficiently and be able to give us greater sense of control over the costs of running our bus system," he says.

Ulman says the partnership, which takes effect on July 1, could save both counties $2 million annually that could be redirected into better service and more routes. A group called the Regional Transportation Agency will be formed with a commission made up of representatives for all the local jurisdictions.

"Any time we can come together across county lines, what we're doing is we're providing an opportunity for folks to get to good jobs, regardless of which county they happen to live in," says Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman.

Both executives plan to reach out to Prince George's County, the City of Laurel, and possibly Montgomery County to join the agency and link regional buses to Metro, MARC and local bus services like Ride On and The Bus.

"We would love to have partnership with them as well. All jurisdictions we invite to be part of this regional approach to solving this very big issue," says Neuman.

"I've enjoyed working with County Executives (Rushern) Baker and (Ike) Leggett, it's been a very collaborate effort so far. Since my early days in office, they've reached out and looked for ways to work together and collaborate and I expect that to continue," she says.

On Friday, Ulman, Neuman and Congressmen John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings and Dutch Ruppersberger broke ground on a new transit facility for buses in Annapolis Junction. Construction on the building is expected to be completed in mid- November and would serve as a maintenance depot and transfer point for multiple routes.

The Ulman-Neuman partnership isn't without controversy. CMRT is fighting the move, asking lawmakers in Annapolis to block the deal before it takes effect. CMRT runs buses between Columbia, Laurel, Savage, Arundel Mills, Odenton and College Park.

CMRT Chief Executive Officer James Perez tells the Baltimore Sun the move is a threat to the independent oversight it provides and could mean his non-profit will not survive after July 1.

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