Res­i­dents weigh in on trans­porta­tion is­sues

Want to see in­cen­tives for car­pool­ing and buses

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By TAY­LOR DEVILLE tdev­ille@somd­news.com

Traf­fic can be tough, even in once-ru­ral South­ern Mary­land.

Seek­ing to ad­dress the grow­ing con­cerns of cit­i­zens in the tri-county area re­lated to traf­fic con­ges­tion, the South­ern Mary­land Group chap­ter of the Sierra Club, a na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, held a regional trans­porta­tion fo­rum Wed­nes­day night at Patux­ent River Naval Air Mu­seum to pro­vide a space to brain­storm ideas on how to mit­i­gate the heavy flow of traf­fic and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues as­so­ci­ated with it.

Dur­ing ques­tion and answer ses­sions, res­i­dents from St. Mary’s and Calvert coun­ties brought up trans­porta­tion prob­lems that have been ex­acer- bated by de­vel­op­ment in both ju­ris­dic­tions.

Fo­rum at­ten­dants found is­sue with a lack of al­ter­na­tives to mo­tor ve­hi­cles in, and be­tween, both coun­ties, specif­i­cally re­lated to travel to and from Naval Air Sta­tion Patux­ent River.

About 93 per­cent of base em­ploy­ees com­mute to NAS Pax River by a sin­gle oc­cu­pancy ve­hi­cle, ac­cord­ing to a study con­ducted by the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land and pre­sented dur­ing the fo­rum by Frank Allen, pres­i­dent of the Patux­ent Tide­wa­ter Land Trust.

Al­though strate­gies have been in­tro­duced to de­crease base traf­fic, like

adding more se­cu­rity guards, “more ef­fi­cient cre­den­tials ver­i­fi­ca­tion” to al­low more ve­hi­cles to pass quickly through the gates, and co­or­di­na­tion with Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion’s State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion to time light sig­nals to sup­port quickly-mov­ing traf­fic, there are still a num­ber of un­tapped re­sources that could be im­ple­mented, Allen said.

A re­in­stated wa­ter taxi ser­vice from Calvert to to the base gar­nered some sup­port among at­ten­dants, as well as a re­li­able shut­tle sys­tem that stops at the base. The ferry was shut down af­ter the con­struc­tion of the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge be­tween Calvert and St. Mary’s 41 years ago.

The bridge, the main

route of travel be­tween the coun­ties, sees an av­er­age of 33,000 ve­hi­cles per day, ac­cord­ing to the pre­sen­ta­tion. A re­place­ment bridge has been in con­ver­sa­tion for the last 11 years, with $6 mil­lion al­ready spent on plan­ning for the project, The En­ter­prise re­ported in Oc­to­ber.

An on-base shut­tle pro­gram was ended in 2012 “due to fund­ing con­straints,” ac­cord­ing to the pre­sen­ta­tion, ap­par­ently an im­ped­i­ment to car pool­ing prac­tices, which fell from 18 users per day in 2012 to just four in 2017.

“Up­grad­ing the sys­tem over time to al­low base bus ac­cess” is nec­es­sary to limit the num­ber of sin­gle oc­cu­pancy ve­hi­cles trav­el­ing there, Allen said.

About seven buses and nine bus routes ex­ist in St. Mary’s County, but ac­ces­si­bil­ity is an is­sue. SHA has pro­hib­ited the St. Mary’s County Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works

and Trans­porta­tion from put­ting up STS bus stop signs on state-con­trolled roads, leav­ing bus users to rely on a “flag stop sys­tem,” Scott Anderson, chair of the St. Mary’s Trans­porta­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, said.

There are also gap times in bus sched­ules, which typ­i­cally stop run­ning be­tween 6 and 7 p.m. Calvert County has five routes, and two shut­tles to bus users to Prince Fred­er­ick.

Anderson would like to see St. Mary’s add “nine more routes than we have,” but “our only prob­lem is money,” he said. With­out ad­di­tional fund­ing, Anderson said he would like to cre­ate “bet­ter route maps” for those who use the STS ser­vice, be­cause “in­for­ma­tion is cheap,” he said.

Part­ner­ships be­tween the largest en­ti­ties in St. Mary’s, like NAS Pax River, MedS­tar St. Mary’s

Hospi­tal and St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land, were brought up as a pos­si­bil­ity to im­ple­ment more shut­tle ser­vices.

The mass trans­porta­tion ben­e­fit pro­gram, es­tab­lished in 2000 for eli­gi­ble per­son­nel em­ployed by the U.S. Depart­ment of De­fense and mil­i­tary ser­vice mem­bers, pro­vides up to $260 per month to use car­pool­ing ser­vices, al­though many base em­ploy­ees are un­aware of its ex­is­tence, ac­cord­ing to those in at­ten­dance.

Some sug­gested the des­ig­na­tion of a high-oc­cu­pancy ve­hi­cle lane on Route 235 to push for in­creased car-pool­ing and more uti­liza­tion of the ben­e­fit pro­gram stipend.

The im­ple­men­ta­tion of a bike share pro­gram at the base and through­out the coun­ties was also dis­cussed, but “with side­walks that go nowhere,” more in­fra­struc­ture is needed to sup­port the use of even in­di­vid­u­ally-owned bi­cy­cles, one at­ten­dant said.

About 3 per­cent of South­ern Mary­land res­i­dents travel to work by walk­ing and bik­ing, and one per­cent use pub­lic trans­porta­tion to get there, Rosa Hance, group chair for the Mary­land Sierra Club said, cit­ing sta­tis­tics from 2008.

More in­fra­struc­ture is needed, it was agreed, to re­duce con­ges­tion, pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tally-con­scious ve­hi­cle prac­tices, like adding more elec­tric car charges through­out the county, and keep Route 235 from “turn­ing into Rockville Pike,” a stretch or road rou­tinely plagued by heavy stop-and-go traf­fic and ac­ci­dents, fo­rum at­tendee Va­lerie Dep­tula said.

“It comes down to the lev­els of gov­ern­ment ex­ert­ing their author­ity,” Ed Brown, a St. Mary’s res­i­dent, said.

At­ten­dants were en­cour­aged to at­tend the next St. Mary’s com­mis­sion­ers’ pub­lic fo­rum on Sept. 25 in Leonard­town as well as the traf­fic ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee meet­ing on Oct. 18 at 1 p.m., also in Leonard­town.

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