Changes to a pair of METRO bus routes designed to improve access to Portland International Jetport and the new Maine Department of Health and Human Services building will go into effect on Jan. 11.

The Greater Portland Transit District, which operates the METRO bus service, has been working on some tweaks to two routes for some time. The need for change became even greater in the fall of 2013 when the state announced it was moving DHHS and Department of Labor offices from downtown Portland to South Portland near the jetport.

The changes to bus No. 1, known as the Congress Street route, and bus No. 5, known as the Maine Mall route, will make each more efficient, explained Denise Beck, METRO’s director of marketing.

The biggest improvement, she said, is that people who travel from Portland’s peninsula to the jetport area will now be able to get off before the bus goes to the Maine Mall. That will cut the travel time in half, from about 40 minutes to slightly less than 20 minutes, Beck said.

When the state announced its plan to move the DHHS and Department of Labor offices from Marginal Way and Lancaster Street, respectively, one of the biggest concerns was travel time. Many residents who access state services can currently walk to their downtown locations, but that will change when the new state office building opens on Jetport Boulevard.

Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, said he’s glad to see the bus routes improved but said the new location will still be a challenge for many and he’s “still disappointed (the move) happened in the first place.”

“Our whole philosophy is making things as accessible as possible,” Swann said. “It’s so hard to be poor, why would we try to make it harder? And DHHS is an organization whose whole existence is about helping people.”

Construction of the new state building appears complete – the exterior is finished, the parking lot is paved and a sign has been erected – but the building is not yet open.

DHHS spokesman David Sorensen said the move will begin in late January but likely won’t be fully completed until March.

Portland City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who also is a member of the METRO board, said the route changes are excellent and not just for those who need to access the new state offices.

“We were having this conversation even before the DHHS move,” he said. “This provides more reliable access to the jetport and eliminates the need for a transfer for many who catch the bus on the peninsula.”

The No. 5 bus will no longer stop at the Portland Transportation Center, the depot for the Amtrak Downeaster and Concord Coach bus service. However, the No. 1 bus will now include stops there.

Beck said the No. 1 and No. 5 routes already are among the METRO’s most popular and said the changes could further increase demand. In 2014, METRO has served between 108,637 and 134,880 riders each month. Overall ridership is up slightly over 2013.

The two route changes will go into effect in about two weeks, but Beck said other changes are coming as well.

In the summer of 2015, METRO plans to alter its No. 3 and No. 6 routes, which both serve the Deering area of Portland, to make them more efficient.

METRO also has discussed plans to add new commuter bus service between Portland, Yarmouth and Freeport. That expansion is contingent on receiving a federal grant of more than a half-million dollars. If successful, service could start in the summer.