A regional organization is hashing out short- and long-term plans to address transportation needs, including looking at transit and other ways to alleviate traffic congestion.
The Calvert-St. Mary’s Metropolitan Planning Organization had its public kick-off meeting at the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland, where they explained the purpose of the MPO and the Moving Forward 2045 long range transportation plan on Tuesday night.
The MPO region includes so-called urbanized areas of Calvert and St. Mary’s counties. The organization is responsible for setting priorities for regional transportation planning, including improvements to roadways, transit systems and bike facilities.
Dan Janousek, regional planner for the Maryland Department of Transportation, provided the audience with some background information about the MPO.
“The Calvert-St. Mary’s Metropolitan Planning Organization developed their first long range transportation plan in 2013 and adopted it in 2016,” Janousek said, explaining that the MPO is required to come up with a long-range plan and a short-range plan, with the short-range plan being updated every four years. “We are now at the end of a four-year cycle,” he said.
“We anticipate that there will be $621 million in federal transportation dollars coming to this region over the next 25 years, although, as you know one of the bigger projects in the area is the [Gov.] Thomas Johnson Bridge and the cost for that project now is about $1 billion,” Janousek said, adding that the plan also lays out the vision of the region, including anything else that residents are looking for.
CH Planning, a woman-owned enterprise, was selected for the MPO’s Moving Forward 2045 long-range transportation plan.
“CH Planning is working with the MPO to help develop a framework for the plan, get your input, help with this meeting, and make sure that your comments are treated respectfully,” Sarah Oaks, vice president of CH Planning, said.
Jaime Phillips, a representative of CH Planning, gave a short presentation, overviewing the MPO and outlining updated travel patterns and demographics within the region.
“The MPO region includes the very southern tip of Calvert County and includes St. Mary’s County from about Hollywood down through St. Mary’s City, mainly the eastern part of the county up against the naval air station … in 2010 the Lexington Park-California-Chesapeake Ranch Estates urban area reached the number of people needed to be designated as a Metropolitan Planning Organization,” Phillips said.
The organization is made up of professionals such as urban planners and engineers and the committee consists of one commissioner from Calvert, one commissioner from St. Mary’s, and a Maryland Department of Transportation secretary or designee.
In the MPO region, approximately 70% of people are working within their county, using county roads daily, and the median age is 33.5 years old, according to 2017 estimates. The organization looks at travel trends to try to understand how much traffic is on the road.
Relieving St. Mary’s congestion — specifically on Route 4 from the Solomons bridge all the way out to Route 5 and Great Mills Road and the Naval Air Station Patuxent River — is one of the main goals of the organization, Phillips said.
“Our main goal here is to find out what your idea of transportation is and we would like to hear about your experiences with public transit … we want to find out what your needs are,” Janousek said.
After the presentation, the floor was opened up to the public for questions, comments or suggestions.
BJ Hall, president of the St. Mary’s NAACP, volunteered to speak, asking about the $621 million that is expected to be supplied to the region.
“We talked about a $621 million digit, is that just for the metropolitan area or the two counties?” Hall asked. “You mentioned public transportation would be included, but that is a countywide system so would it only impact the metropolitan area?”
The funds are for the entire metropolitan area, Janousek said, but added that since the public transit system serves the MPO area it is able to get funded.
“A big benefit of an MPO is that the funding goes to the entire program, giving you access to federal money that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” Phillips said.
Sabrina Heck, community planning liaison officer at Pax River, pointed out that traffic is an encroaching issue in the MOP region.
“There are about 22,000 people who work on Pax River causing all this traffic on the roadway … that’s the same amount as the Pentagon. The Pentagon only has 8,000 parking spaces but they have a variety of alternate forms of transportation. … I’ve taken the bus and the Metro there, I see people walking and riding bikes. We don’t have the infrastructure,” Heck said.
Heck has been working with John Deatrick, St. Mary’s director of public works and transportation, as well as a host of others on an alternative transportation plan for Calvert and St. Mary’s.
“We need to figure out a way to get people out of their single-occupancy vehicles,” she said, suggesting that taxis be brought back onto the base.
“I just don’t understand the lack of public transportation. After World War II, I could get on a bus or streetcar in Minneapolis and have only one transfer,” John Scroggins of California said, encouraging improvements to the bus system.
“Are there young people in this area willing to ride a bus? If so, that is the impetus to developing infrastructure,” Thomas Brewer said. Brewer, a member of the the St. Mary’s commission on the environment, also suggested using space in the county more strategically by developing park and rides.
The MPO is currently working on a draft plan, scheduled to be completed in December. After the final draft plan is complete in January, a public meeting will be held to present it and there will be a 45-day comment period before the council votes in March.