A long-awaited maintenance facility for regional transit buses is one step closer to reality following Howard County’s purchase of a six-acre site along Corridor Road in Savage.
County officials closed on a $5 million deal in early February to acquire the property, which includes a three-bay garage with office space that they plan to use as a maintenance and storage facility for regional public transportation vehicles.
On March 7, the Howard County Council approved a subsequent request to seek $6 million in earmarked federal funds from the Maryland Transit Administration to help with the building’s renovation.
According to Howard County spokesman Kevin Enright, the facility’s purchase and design is being funded by the Federal Transit Administration, Maryland Transit Administration, and Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
“Anne Arundel County’s portion is at least $800,000, which does include federal funds and Anne Arundel County funds,” Enright said.
All told, the price tag at present is not far off of the $12 million turnkey estimate projected in 2003 by Carl Balser, then chief of Howard County’s Division of Transportation Planning.
“We’re thrilled that we have finally acquired the property we need, and it’s well-located in terms of service needs,” said Howard County Planning & Zoning Director Marsha McLaughlin. “Our next step will be working with a design consultant on how to suitably renovate the building.”
Since at least 2003, regional public transportation providers have sensed an acute need for a publicly-owned maintenance facility. “We’re severely limited when we go out to bid for transit service contracts,” said John Powell, CEO of Laurel-based Central Maryland Regional Transit (CMRT, formerly the Corridor Transportation Corp.). “We have to find bidders with the financial wherewithal to purchase or lease a facility and bring the tools necessary to operate it.”
That’s not an easy task, considering the extent of the region’s transportation systems. CMRT manages transit service contracts for the state of Maryland, Howard County and the Anne Arundel Department of Social Services. It also administers the four-county Connect-A-Ride system, which serves approximately 657,000 passengers annually and includes routes to Prince George’s County and Montgomery County localities.
Additionally, CMRT operates the Jobs Access Reverse Commute service for West Anne Arundel County and manages Howard Transit, Howard County’s fixed-route and paratransit service, which carries an estimated 863,000 annual riders.
The good news — and the bad news — is that ridership is growing.
“We’re already seeing an increase in the number of vehicles we need to operate owing to BRAC (Base Relocation and Closure) growth at Fort Meade,” Powell said.
The chief savings of a publicly-owned facility are expected to be realized through increased vendor competition and reduced non-revenue miles, Enright said.
Service is currently provided by First Transit, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based transportation company. But as Balser told The Business Monthly in 2003, a publicly-owned facility could benefit CMRT by expanding the geographic area from which bids are sought, allowing a nationwide search.
“Vendors currently pass [lease and development] costs on to the county as part of their contract,” Enright said, noting that, while not specifically itemized in its contract, the current vendor’s lease costs amount to an estimated $300,000 a year.
“At some point after we open this facility, that money won’t be necessary and can be put to better use for other pressing needs,” Powell said.
Moreover, the proposed location will help to reduce the miles driven by the buses from a depot to the start of their routes, reducing the amount of time buses are not transporting passengers and collecting fares, Enright said.
Howard County currently is working on the design of the facility with a number of engineering and design consulting companies, including Baltimore-based RK&K, Gannett Fleming of Camp Hill, Pa. and The Burns Group, which is headquartered in Missouri.
“One of the major roles of the consulting firms is to prepare a detailed study of the site and determine the level of improvements needed so the facility can operate efficiently,” Enright said. “The plan is for the facility to be operational in 2013.”
As Powell sees it, the new facility will likely need a bus washing and fueling station, but other necessary amenities haven’t yet been determined.
“Over time, who knows how it will evolve?” McLaughlin said.
But she, Powell and Enright all acknowledge that the facility and property should be sufficiently large enough to absorb the region’s expected growth.
“The consultants are playing an important role in helping determine how much service can be supported out of the facility in the event the county or its partners increase transit services in response to increased demand,” Enright said. “The county believes the facility will allow us to respond to future transit needs as the region grows and develops; however, it’s too early to determine the level of expansions that could be accommodated.”