- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
With work set to begin this month on road improvements at the Waldorf intersection of Route 5 and Old Washington Road, Charles County commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II is upset about the neglected states of an adjacent Exxon gas station and nearby CSX rail line.
In an email dated Aug. 29, Collins (D) requested that county planning staff look into including the closed gas station among the intersection improvements. In another email Wednesday, he asked that the county’s Annapolis delegation push for the speedy repair of rail tracks crossing Route 5 between Old Washington Road and Pika Drive.
Collins said in an interview that the county has been working for more than a year to have CSX fix the rail line, which has sunk below street level to the point that motorists treat the tracks as an unofficial speed bump, routinely slowing traffic in an already-busy corridor.
Following an on-site meeting with CSX and State Highway Administration personnel, county staff were given the impression that funding to repair the tracks would free up once the current fiscal year began July 1, Collins said.
But now the county is being told the funding has been reallocated to repair the rail crossing at U.S. 301 near Route 4 in Prince George’s County instead, Collins said.
“We’re really responding to issues raised by citizens and, in the eyes of our first responders, the potential issue related to public safety,” he added. “The citizen’s liaison officer has received a lot of calls, and anybody driving through there knows why.”
Collins said he is hoping for “at minimum, some assurance it won’t be an additional year” before the Route 5 crossing is repaired.
“Its a big concern of ours, and we’re actually the ones that brought this up with the county, and its been over a year now,” Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department Station 3 Deputy Chief Jeff Duer said. “The concern is the state of our apparatus and the safety of our personnel.”
He said the station is expected to get 15 years out of its fire trucks, “but when you have a crossing like this that has degraded the way it has over the years, it’s going to cut down on the life of your apparatus.”
Waldorf VFD Chief J.R. Hayden said the crossing also cuts down on emergency response times, either by requiring vehicles to waste precious seconds slowing down, or forcing them to detour when traffic backs up.
“Seconds mean lives in our business, and it’s the same thing with the railroad crossing,” he said. “We have to come almost to a complete stop, and then it takes a big rig a lot of time to get back up to speed.”
Duer said the damage caused from crossing tracks can range from a blown tire to busted suspension, and that it was far from the first time a local CSX crossing had degraded to the point it hindered traffic.
“We’ve got a lot of citizens that cross that thing every day, and these tire companies that line Route 5 love it. That’s a boon to their business,” Hayden said.
Duer said that the February meeting with CSX and SHA officials left the impression that the crossing would be fixed before the end of this month.
The plan coming out of the meeting was for that section of Route 5 to be shut down for three days while repairs were conducted, with emergency vehicles allowed access after one day, Hayden said. The U.S. 301 crossing was mentioned at the meeting as having the higher priority, but state officials implied there was enough funding for both projects, he added.
“The state’s done a great job of replacing the ‘BUMP’ signs,” Duer quipped. “There’s brand new ‘BUMP’ signs up there.”
SHA officials did not return a request for comment by press time.
As for the neglected gas station, which sits at the intersection of the northbound lanes of Route 5 and Old Washington Road, Collins said it pains him the most of any “eyesore” in the county due to its potential. The intersection lies at the southern end of the Waldorf Urban Redevelopment Corridor, the area proposed by the county’s plan to transform Waldorf into a high-density urban center that can support light rail transit.
“That area, from my perspective, is at the heart of Waldorf and the heart of that redevelopment area, and I just think psychologically, seeing improvements in that area would have tremendous value for citizens of the county, particularly individuals that live in Waldorf,” he said.
Collins pictures “a walkable setting that could buttress the shops that exist there now,” but “[o]n a grander scale, incorporate that into what could potentially be some kind of town center.
“That is a valuable piece of real estate, and I think with the redevelopment plan, that will be a centerpiece and have a tremendous future. I think our minds are almost clouded to the potential that lies in that area.”
Collins said he had even planned to stage the awards presentation of his Waldorf Beautification Project initiative at the property in order to draw attention to its condition.
“I just thought more than anything, that location embodies, there’s no other way to look at it but as urban blight,” he added.
Collins called the county’s lack of authority to hold landowners responsible for the condition of their properties “troublesome.”
“Our inability to really address those types of properties, to kind of really push the owners to invest in some type of limited improvements or at least maintenance. So, that’s something as a board that we’ve discussed how we could do that, to force these landowners and give some incentive to maintain these properties “ he said.