County officials draft transportation needs to state
Highlights So. Md. light rail project
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.