- The Enterprise
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The goal is to make the commute from St. Mary’s County to Washington, D.C., less miserable. That’s why buses hired by the Maryland Transit Administration make 47 trips to and from the city each workday in St. Mary’s.
Get commuters out of their cars and onto buses and they can have a more pleasant trip. Their vehicles stay parked, cutting down on traffic congestion on the long trip to D.C.
It is where to park all those vehicles that is the looming problem, and since the MTA buses are the only form of mass transit most St. Mary’s commuters are likely to have before they reach retirement age, a solution must be found.
Part of the problem will be solved next summer. Construction has started on a 500-vehicle park-and-ride lot off Golden Beach Road in Charlotte Hall. And MTA can continue to rent the current site at Charlotte Hall Shopping Center, which has about 650 spaces, but they don’t want to do that.
The state prefers to own these parking lots, not rent them. If a landlord decides to build an office building on a parking lot instead of renting it to the state, MTA fears, there could quickly be no place left for commuters to park.
So MTA planned to add another 500 spaces at a parking lot near the intersection of Route 6 and Route 5 in New Market, near Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School.
That’s not going to happen, though. The St. Mary’s County government owns the land, and in 2011 the county commissioners wrote letters in support of the project. That support evaporated within the last month after neighborhood opposition mounted, largely because of the increased traffic the commuters would bring to that intersection.
In a Dec. 11 letter, the commissioners said in a letter to MTA “the current proposal may not be the best alternative” and requested that planning for the New Market site “no longer be pursued while alternative sites and solution are evaluated.”
The important next step is that alternative sites really are pursued. Commuter bus ridership from the current Charlotte Hall parking lot increased 32 percent from 2006 to 2012. And St. Mary’s County has been and is expected to continue to be one of the fastest growing areas of the state. In 2010 the population was 105,151. By 2030 it is projected to top 150,000.
How can MTA be sure it won’t be shot down again by neighborhood opposition when they propose the next time they propose a new site for a parking lot? St. Mary’s County Commissioner Dan Morris had a good suggestion. Instead of another giant, 500-vehicle parking lot, try a number of smaller-sized lots. It’s a lot easier for roadways and intersections to absorb maybe a couple of hundred cars coming in the morning and leaving in the evening, instead of adding 1,000 such trips to a neighborhood.
The aim should be not just to tamp down the opposition of neighborhood residents, but to avoid creating new traffic tip-ups and dangers while building a lot intended to ease traffic problems farther north.