State offers to help cover county's bus costs
Deal would secure funding for a year to keep nine lines running
Maryland transportation officials are proposing a deal with Prince George's County that would allow the government to keep nine endangered Metrobus routes in the county running for at least another year.
In a letter last week to county officials, Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari said the state is willing to cover half of the nearly $1.7 million cost of running the bus lines from Oxon Hill to Fort Washington, Bowie State University to New Carrollton, and along Bock Road and Indian Head Highway for at least one more year — if the county will agree to pay the other half.
County Council members said they are checking into the proposal.
The routes under the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority have been proposed for elimination starting in July because of budget shortfalls. More than 45 residents and county officials who rely on the routes attended a hearing April 13 to oppose the cuts.
"The department is once again willing to work with the county," Porcari wrote in the letter officials received April 20, in which he said the routes could keep running if both sides agreed to spend $845,000.
Sharing the cost would be enough to keep the nine routes: C12 and C14 in Hillcrest Heights; P17, 18 and 19 from Oxon Hill to Fort Washington; W13 and 14 along Bock Road; W15 along Indian head Highway; and B27 from Bowie and New Carrollton, Porcari wrote.
All the routes were placed on the chopping block this year as WMATA struggles to recover a $145 million shortfall due to the struggling economy, rising operation costs and lost government funding. The agency is laying off 313 workers, but must cut routes to make up the remaining $29 million.
In the letter, Porcari blames Prince George's officials for not working with the state to stem the cuts, which have been under discussion for months.
"The county's refusal to participate in this effort precluded consideration of other options," he wrote to County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Council Chairwoman Marilynn M. Bland (D-Dist. 9) of Clinton. "In these difficult economic times, the unwillingness of the county to work collaboratively on this issue disadvantages our citizens."
County Public Works Spokeswoman Susan Hubbard confirmed negotiations have been tense. Prince George's has been pushing the state to use other funding from WMATA's capital projects and the federal stimulus to keep the bus lines running rather than have local governments spend more.
"We fought the cuts. We felt they shouldn't be made. But, you know, they went ahead and made them anyway," Hubbard said. "But had we not fought so hard, we probably wouldn't be looking at this deal right now."
Hubbard said the county is considering the deal, but is still looking for alternative funding from the WMATA and state budgets.
E-mail Daniel Valentine at email@example.com.