Residents weigh in on transportation issues
Want to see incentives for carpooling and buses
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.