County of­fi­cials draft trans­porta­tion needs to state

High­lights So. Md. light rail project

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

Ev­ery year around the spring time, coun­ties around the state pre­pare to send a let­ter to the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion to ad­vo­cate their in­di­vid­ual trans­porta­tion pri­or­i­ties.

Dur­ing Tues­day’s Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers meet­ing, the com­mis­sion­ers, with the help of their staff, took an­other step in fi­nal­iz­ing the draft of their let­ter to the depart­ment.

In the fall, the com­mis­sion­ers will meet with Pete Rahn, the state’s sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion, and will ad­dress their con­cerns high­lighted in the let­ter in per­son. But be­fore that, the com­mis­sion­ers have to pri­or­i­tize each is­sue.

On Tues­day, they de­cided the com­ple­tion of the “project plan­ning” phase of the South­ern Mary­land Rapid Tran­sit line would be their top pri­or­ity this year.

Pre­vi­ously, Rahn and his staff sug­gested that, rather than look­ing at light rail tran­sit for the SMRT line, the county look at bus rapid tran­sit along the U.S. 301 cor­ri­dor to Branch Av­enue in­stead. But in the let­ter, the county makes clear that they pre­fer light rail, which is some­thing both Charles and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties have sup­ported.

“[We’re] re­it­er­at­ing the things we’ve men­tioned in the past, like the stead­fast sup­port from Prince Ge­orge’s County with the same rec­om­men­da­tions,” Jason Groth, the county’s di­rec­tor of re­source and in­fra­struc­ture, said. “It’s im­por­tant to re­main con­sis­tent.”

Both sides are on the same page when it comes to the align­ment of the tran­sit route and what the goals of the route should be, Groth said. But the county is try­ing to con­vince the state that, while buses may be less ex­pen­sive ini­tially, the light rail is still the best way to go.

Bus tran­sit will be “ob­so­lete upon open­ing,” Groth said, be­cause the ca­pac­ity of a bus sys­tem is much more lim­ited than a light rail sys­tem and the main­te­nance costs mov­ing for­ward will be greater than the main­te­nance of a light rail sys­tem.

“It makes much more sense to move for­ward with the more ex­pen­sive op­tion in light rail in terms of cap­i­tal costs, but in the long run a lower op­er­at­ing cost with the lower op­er­at­ing main­te­nance,” Groth said.

The county has also had tran­sit ori­ented de­vel­op­ment zon­ing in place since 2010, Groth said. The county is as pre­pared for light rail as it has ever been, he said.

The county is also re­quest­ing the state fully fund the project be­fore 2023, which is the year Rahn’s staff has noted would be the year the state would have enough money freed up to do so in its con­sol­i­dated trans­porta­tion plan.

An­other thing of note, Groth said, is that, for the first time in years, the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memo­rial Bridge project will not be in­cluded in the trans­porta­tion let­ter to the sec­re­tary. Be­cause Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) fully funded and sched­uled the re­place­ment of the bridge, he said, the item was able to me re­moved as a re­quest.

How­ever, Groth said, the first thing the county does in the let­ter is thank Rahn and Ho­gan for their work in re­plac­ing the bridge and mov­ing for­ward with the project.

County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said he is ex­cited to see the bridge be re­moved as a pri­or­ity. Groth said the gov­er­nor’s plan is to start con­struc­tion on the bridge in 2021 and have the project com­pleted by 2023.

“It’s ex­cit­ing to see the Harry Nice Bridge re­moved from this let­ter,” Robin­son said. “I don’t know the rea­son for the sud­den change of heart, but, any way it hap­pened, we’re cer­tainly thank­ful for that.”

Robin­son said he is hope­ful that other items in the let­ter, such as the SMRT project, gain some “mo­men­tum” un­der the new ad­min­is­tra­tion like the bridge did.

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