- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The push to revitalize downtown Hughesville continued Tuesday when the county commissioners took up proposals from the Hughesville Business and Civic Alliance to allow an LED sign advertising local businesses and special events and create a signaled four-way intersection at the northern end of Old Leonardtown Road and Route 5.
The alliance said the intersection project would improve traffic safety and foster economic activity in the downtown area, which took a hit with the 2007 opening of the Route 5 bypass of Hughesville.
The proposal would essentially shift the new one-way stoplight on northbound Route 5 at the intersection of Gallant Green Road south to Old Leonardtown Road and turn it into a four-way signal. Traffic along Gallant Green Road would be rerouted south along Foster Lane, which would connect to Route 5 at the new intersection.
The alliance first proposed the project to the county in September 2011 as an alternative to the Gallant Green light, which just recently began operating.
A second option proposed by the Maryland State Highway Administration would keep the Gallant Green light, install another half signal at Old Leonardtown Road and coordinate both so that they essentially function as a single intersection, said Jason Groth, chief of resource and infrastructure management at the county Department of Planning and Growth Management.
Citing the February announcement by the College of Southern Maryland that it intends to build its fourth campus near the intersection, as well as its proximity to the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative’s new operations center, Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said he favored the alliance’s proposal.
“What’s changed since we last looked at this is the decision by the College of Southern Maryland to put their fourth campus on the other side of the proposed traffic signal that’s proposed by the Hughesville Business and Civic Alliance, so that ... should take the Gallant Green equation away, and use that Foster Lane option so there is only one signal which serves a whole lot of purposes,” he said. “It serves main street Hughesville, it serves SMECO and it will serve the College of Southern Maryland.”
Robinson, whose district includes Hughesville, also suggested that disconnecting Gallant Green Road from Route 5 altogether would be best for traffic safety.
“There’s no question that the Gallant Green intersection has been a serious hazard for many years, and we’ve had fatalities at that intersection,” he said. “By not having Gallant Green Road intersect with Route 5 but connect to Foster Lane to this new proposed signal would also alleviate the danger that currently exists at Gallant Green, yes?”
Groth said the current light addresses “the intended goal of having a safer movement in and out of Gallant Green onto Route 5.”
“That signal could be moved, however,” Robinson said. “So you don’t have to purchase new traffic signal equipment. You could literally take what currently exists a quarter mile up the road.”
One potential issue with the alliance’s proposal is that it would provide less room for westbound traffic coming through the bypass to queue up, Groth said. An average of 33,000 cars travel through the bypass every day, he noted.
Robinson brought up past discussions between the county and state regarding the transfer of Old Leonardtown Road, which is a state road, to the county in exchange for expediting funding for a streetscape project in downtown Hughesville, including the addition of on-street parking and sidewalks.
“It’s not a bad deal if there’s a fair trade,” Groth said. “I would not recommend simply swapping the intersection project here because you want it to be equitable. There’s a considerable cost for the county to continue to maintain those amenities because it’s not just going to be a road anymore. It’s going to be sidewalks and parking lanes and landscaping and the like. … I would make sure we negotiate well and get as much as we can out of that project.”
Robinson and Groth said that the college had expressed support for the alliance’s proposal, but the commissioners voted to reconsider the matter at a future meeting with officials from the college and SMECO present.
The commissioners also voted to reconvene a task force created in 2008 to revise the county’s sign regulations so that it could consider whether to allow a designated village’s LED sign to advertise special events. The task force drafted a new ordinance that was approved by the commissioners in 2010.
The task force reconvened in 2011 to allow for sign designs promoting villages like Hughesville and agritourism at local farms. The provisions allowed for the advertisement of businesses, but not special community events, an option sought by the alliance.
Signs promoting special events are allowed and exist in the incorporated towns of La Plata and Indian Head, “something that we can take countywide,” Robinson said.
“For the average citizen, I don’t see how it’s any different coming into La Plata, and it might say concert Friday night at 8 o’clock, to allow Hughesville to do the same,” he said.
The task force specifically drafted a section in the ordinance allowing breakaway signs for special events and limiting the amount of time they can be put up, “so you didn’t end up with some of the corners in the county with 20 or 30 of these signs that go up and stay up there forever,” said Shelley Wagner, a PGM program manager and task force member.
“Wouldn’t it make more sense in terms of sign pollution to just allow one LED to promote an event instead of having signs all over the county?” Robinson said.
“It may be, but are you going to put every special event in the county on that one LED board?” Wagner asked.
“This is just for Hughesville, the same way La Plata has an LED sign that doesn’t promote what’s happening in Indian Head,” Robinson said.
Wagner said a lone LED board advertising special events could be an improvement over breakaway signs if one is allowed in all villages, in addition to Hughesville. She mentioned Nanjemoy, which frequently holds events in its community center.
“From my point of view, if Nanjemoy and that whole area there felt that they could afford to put up a nice sign and meet our requirements, rather than putting out the little breakaway signs, I see that as a plus,” commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said.
Commissioners’ Vice President Rueben B. Collins II (D) said he was reluctant to change the ordinance given how long it took the county to even establish a policy on signs.
“My concern is when we set policy, when we continue to create opportunities to alter it, then the actual strength of the policy we have in place is limited,” he said.
Commissioner Debra Davis (D) also preferred staying with the current ordinance.
“I think that when we ask people to do this job, and they take weeks and months and they give of their time, that we’ve got to enforce it, and I think we’ve got to stop being so lackadaisical about it,” her said.
Davis made a motion to stick by the current regulations, but it failed without a third vote after being seconded by Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D).
Ultimately, Rucci seconded Robinson’s motion to reconvene the task force, which Kelly voted for. Davis voted against the motion.