- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Tucked inside nearly $650 million in Prince George’s County transportation projects announced Monday by Gov. Martin O’Malley was $5 million for a study to examine transit options linking Waldorf and the Branch Avenue Metro station in Marlow Heights, a significant step in local officials’ efforts to bring light rail to Charles County.
Though the study will look at other possibilities, local officials expect light rail to be the county’s ultimate transit solution, with bus rapid transit a potential interim option.
Charles County commissioners’ Vice President Rueben B. Collins II (D) said that the study represents “essentially project planning for fixed-route transit service,” though he said more funding would be needed to fully meet the study’s goals.
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said that the study would require a total of roughly $15 million, “so there’s some work to be done, but today was just the beginning.”
“What will actually come about, my guess, is that it’s definitely going to be light rail,” she said. “At this stage in the game, it’s already been determined that there will be some kind of high-capacity transit. We’re open to either.”
“What is important is that we’re absolutely in the queue, and I think that’s something that we can’t overemphasize,” Collins said. “I think in the community it’s sometimes viewed as a pipe dream, but we’re receiving a monetary commitment from the state. For us, this is extremely important.”
O’Malley (D) credited the passage of a gas tax increase — which took effect July 1 — during the 2013 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly with providing the funding needed for the package of projects, which “will create 4,000 jobs, reduce traffic congestion and improve pedestrian safety,” he said in a statement.
“I’m pleased that the O’Malley administration has invested $5 million to conduct the Southern Maryland Transit Study to examine how we can connect Charles County to the Branch Avenue Metro Station through light rail,” U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) said in a statement. “I’m hopeful that this initiative will help shorten the commutes of many Southern Marylanders, and I look forward to working with federal, state and local officials as the study gets underway in the coming months.”
State Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) called the study an example of why the Charles County delegation voted in favor of the gas tax increase, which would have passed without local support.
“People I talk to are very angry about this whole gasoline tax, but I think people will take some comfort from the fact that this gasoline tax was going to happen with or without our votes, and by voting for it, we did get a package of transportation projects that are going to benefit our residents,” he said.
Middleton said in March that the delegation had reached an agreement with the administration that Charles County would support the gas tax increase in exchange for the state including several local priorities, among them funding to complete studies on the light rail initiative and a replacement Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge.
Middleton was recently informed that the state’s draft Consolidated Transportation Plan includes $6 million for preliminary engineering work on a Nice Bridge replacement.
Middleton said he anticipates the transit study to settle on light rail as the best long-term solution.
“I think ultimately it will be some type of light rail,” Middleton said. “But if we can get bus rapid transit that starts the program, I’m satisfied with that so long as we’re ultimately looking at some type of light rail system.”
Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles) said she is expecting “an inclusive study that will look at the potential of light rail and also bus rapid transit in the interim.”
“That is one of the reasons that I voted for the gasoline sales tax increase, because there were specific items in the package that would help Charles County, and it takes a lot of money and a lot of time to get those things moving, but at least now we’ve got some money approved in the budget to start moving forward with this,” she said.
In addition to the transit study, local residents who commute daily into the Washington, D.C., metro region figure to benefit from several of the Prince George’s projects, which include $100 million for an interchange at the intersection of Indian Head Highway and Kerby Hill-Livingston Road, $150 million for a new interchange at Route 4 and Suitland Parkway, and $280 million to complete right-of-way acquisition and final design for the Purple Line Metro train route, which will link Bethesda and New Carrollton.
“I think the No. 1 on the list that will really help Charles County, on the western side especially, is the Kerby Hill Road interchange,” Jameson said. “That is an area that backs up for commuters every day, and I think that will be just a huge addition. If they can get that going and done, that will relieve a lot of stress from our commuters.”