A step for­ward for new tran­sit hub

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY LUZ LAZO la­zol@wash­post.com

Lan­g­ley Park’s cen­ter, long de­layed while the state ne­go­ti­ated land ac­qui­si­tion, is on course for a late-spring ground­break­ing. It’s one of the re­gion’s busiest bus-only trans­fer points.

Mary­land ap­pears to be mov­ing for­ward with plans to build a long-de­layed tran­sit cen­ter in Lan­g­ley Park — home to one of the re­gion’s busiest bus-only trans­fer points.

Ground­break­ing for the $31 mil­lion project in north­west­ern Prince Ge­orge’s County is planned for late spring, and the fa­cil­ity is ex­pected to be com­pleted in the fall of 2015, Mary­land trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials said.

The project has been de­layed for years while the state ne­go­ti­ated the ac­qui­si­tion of the 1.2 acres of land it needs to build the fa­cil­ity.

A year ago, the state filed to ac­quire the site through em­i­nent do­main, and with a court date ap­proach­ing, the state says it is near­ing an agree­ment that would end more than five years of ne­go­ti­a­tions with the landowner.

When the project is com­plete, it will be an­other link in the re­gion’s ef­fort to cre­ate more func­tional tran­sit hubs, with easy con­nec­tions to work and com­mer­cial cen­ters.

Just three miles from Lan­g­ley Park, Mont­gomery County has been build­ing a mas­sive tran­sit cen­ter in down­town Sil­ver Spring to serve buses, Metro­rail and MARC trains. That project, though, has also been de­layed and has been plagued by con­tro­versy. More than three years be­hind the orig­i­nal con­struc­tion sched­ule, it is now slated to open in Septem­ber.

In Lan­g­ley Park, the new tran­sit cen­ter is planned for the site of a Taco Bell in the Lan­g­ley Park Shop­ping Cen­ter, at the in­ter­sec­tion of Univer­sity Boule­vard and New Hamp­shire Av­enue.

The Takoma/Lan­g­ley Park Tran­sit Cen­ter will be sur­rounded by a hub of com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity, with sev­eral dis­count stores and eth­nic restau­rants nearby.

The shop­ping cen­ter’s landowner, Land Fair Prop­er­ties, re­sisted the project for years be­cause the owner felt the tran­sit cen­ter was “go­ing to dra­mat­i­cally and ad­versely im­pact his prop­erty,” said Land Fair’s at­tor­ney, Joseph P. Sun­tum of the firm Miller, Miller & Canby. He said the owner is con­cerned the project will threaten the vi­a­bil­ity of the shop­ping cen­ter by re­duc­ing park­ing and clog­ging the shop­ping cen­ter with bus traf­fic.

Lo­cal and state of­fi­cials, how­ever, say the tran­sit cen­ter will im­prove traf­fic and pedes­trian safety at the in­ter­sec­tion, which

“They just kept hag­gling and hag­gling and hag­gling.”

Prince Ge­orge’s County Coun­cil mem­ber Wil­liam A. Cam­pos (D-Hy­attsville)

sits just across the bor­der from Mont­gomery County.

“I don’t know why any­body will be against this project,” said Prince Ge­orge’s Coun­cil mem­ber (D-Hy­attsville), who rep­re­sents Lan­g­ley Park. “They just kept hag­gling and hag­gling and hag­gling.”

The tran­sit cen­ter was en­vi­sioned more than a decade ago as a cen­tral sta­tion for buses, where com­muters could trans­fer in­stead of hav­ing to cross dan­ger­ous six-lane roads to catch their bus.

“The goal is safety, safety, safety,” said Jim Miller, the project man­ager with the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“By get­ting the buses off the street, we open up some of the street lanes bet­ter for the road­way func­tions, and it gets peo­ple off the street so they can get off one bus and on to an­other bus with­out hav­ing to cut through traf­fic.”

With 12 bus bays to ac­com­mo­date 11 Metro and lo­cal com­muter bus routes, the tran­sit cen­ter is pro­jected to have 12,000 pas­sen­gers board­ing buses on a typ­i­cal week­day, state of­fi­cials say.

If the pro­posed light-rail Pur­ple Line is ever built through Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s, a Pur­ple Line sta­tion would likely be built at or near the site of the planned tran­sit cen­ter.

The State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion has en­hanced nearby bus stops and put fences in along the me­di­ans of the state roads to re­duce jay­walk­ing. Those changes have helped re­duce the pedes­trian in­ci­dents in the area, lo­cal po­lice and government of­fi­cials say.

Area res­i­dents and ac­tivists say the tran­sit cen­ter re­mains the key piece miss­ing.

“It is Fe­bru­ary 2013 and we still don’t have it,” said Er­win Mack, a Takoma Park res­i­dent and chair­man of the Mont­gomery County Pedes­trian, Bi­cy­cle and Traf­fic Safety Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee.

“It is way past time,” Mack said, re­call­ing an ed­i­to­rial in The Washington Post that former Mary­land trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary Robert L. Flana­gan wrote in July 2006, in which he said the Lan­g­ley Park tran­sit cen­ter was “sched­uled to start con­struc­tion within months.”

Of­fi­cials with the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clined to dis­cuss de­tails of the ne­go­ti­a­tions with Land Fair, but an MTA spokesman and the com­pany at­tor­ney said the two par­ties have reached an agree­ment and plan to fi­nal­ize it be­fore or at a March court hear­ing.

To be set­tled is the amount of com­pen­sa­tion for the prop­erty owner. Court doc­u­ments show the two sides are, or least were, very far apart. The state es­ti­mates that the mar­ket value for the prop­erty and the com­pen­sa­tion dam­ages to­tal $3,750,000; the prop­erty own­ers es­ti­mate dam­ages to be in ex­cess of $20 mil­lion.

A bud­get for the project sug­gests that plan­ners be­lieve the cost will be some­where in the mid­dle. The bud­get doc­u­ment says $13.6 mil­lion is des­ig­nated for land ac­qui­si­tion and other costs, in­clud­ing the re­lo­ca­tion of the Taco Bell, state of­fi­cials said.

Sun­tum said that de­spite an im­pend­ing res­o­lu­tion, the owner con­tin­ues to fear that the shop­ping cen­ter will suf­fer. That is also a con­cern among some of the ten­ants.

“Busi­ness will go down if cus­tomers don’t find park­ing,” said Nelly Me­d­ina, whose fam­ily owns Mer­ca­dito Ramos II, a Latino gro­cery store that has been at the Lan­g­ley Park Shop­ping Cen­ter for nearly 20 years.

“At some point we were re­lieved it was never go­ing to hap­pen,” she said.

Now that the state is poised to ac­quire the land, lo­cal of­fi­cials say they hope the project will move along with­out fur­ther de­lay. Bus rid­ers say they al­ready are frus­trated with how long it has taken to de­liver the project.

Luanga Njoya, a Green­belt res­i­dent who trans­fers at the cross­roads en route to his Sil­ver Spring job, said a tran­sit cen­ter would make his long waits at the bus stop more com­fort­able, pro­vid­ing shel­ter on rainy and snowy days. Most im­por­tantly, he said, it will keep hun­dreds of com­muters from hap­haz­ardly cross­ing the treach­er­ous in­ter­sec­tion.

“This is a very busy road and peo­ple run across just to catch the bus,” he said. “It is very dan­ger­ous.”

MARY­LAND TRAN­SIT AD­MIN­IS­TRA­TION

The tran­sit cen­ter, planned for the in­ter­sec­tion of Univer­sity Boule­vard and New Hamp­shire Av­enue, would in­clude 12 bus bays, which would ac­com­mo­date 11 bus routes. State of­fi­cials project that 12,000 pas­sen­gers would board buses here on a typ­i­cal week­day.

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