ACCOKEEK — At an Advisory Neighborhood Community (ANC) Meeting hosted by At-Large County Councilmember Mel Franklin, residents in the Fort Washington and Accokeek areas gathered to discuss options for bringing public transit to the region on July 18.
Franklin mentioned how these community meetings are beneficial for residents so they can connect with local government and directly express their concerns. Those interests are especially vital to residents in the southern portion of the county who rely on county government for their needs.
“One of the things about the Fort Washington and Accokeek area is that there aren’t any municipalities in this area, everything is unincorporated,” Franklin said as he explained that in the northern part of the county, there are a lot of municipalities that advocate for many of the things they need. “We need to stay on top of particularly our unincorporated areas.”
Transportation has been an ongoing issue for the southernmost areas of the county. There are 15 Metro stations throughout Prince George’s County. However, the closest Metro station to people who live in Fort Washington and Accokeek is the Branch Avenue Metro Station, which is at least 10 miles away.
Two of the major roads in the area, Indian Head Highway (MD-210) and Branch Avenue (MD-5), suffer traffic jams daily and parts of those roads are currently undergoing major reconstruction. There are two park and rides in each area where residents can park close to home and take buses into Washington, D.C., but those at the meeting mentioned how there is not enough parking to support the demand.
Much of that traffic is coming from Charles County, Franklin said.
“Southern Maryland is going to keep growing, and that traffic is going to continue to come through Prince George’s County, so if we don’t figure out a way to work with our partners in Charles County and St. Mary’s County to address that issue, we’re going to all be in misery in the future.”
Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Government Relations Officer Charlie Scott briefed the group on two options the organization has been studying to bring better Metro access to the area.
According to Scott, the state had analyzed what it would take to bring the Metro onto the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. WMATA finished the study last month and came up with two promising options.
One of those options, called Alternative 3Br, would bring a train up the beltway to Suitland and Branch Avenue. It will include stops at the National Harbor, Oxon Hill and St. Barnabas Road. It would cost $4.2 billion to construct and will add 22,000 riders per day to the Metro system.
The other option, Alternative 3Cr, will add two Metro stations to the National Harbor area and the track would continue north to D.C. and Anacostia. That will be a shorter route but will include more stations. Because of this, it would cost $6.2 billion to construct but will add 43,000 riders.
Unfortunately, Scott said, the projects are not very high on the priority list for the state.
“At the end of the day, the Federal Transit Administration, this is the entity that decides local funding for projects around the country, they have different criteria for the cost per rider to do this new type of extension for a transit system, and they have different ratings from low-to-high,” Scott said.
Neither project in this corridor ranked high enough on the scale for cost-benefit analysis, Scott said. He added that the 3Cr Alternative was shown to have better cost-benefit than the other option, but the state remains reluctant to approve it.
Those at the meeting were not happy with the area being out of the running for Metro stations due to their experiences with traffic in the area.
“When I look at these, and I think about the amount of people that are on 210 every day that go to Washington, D.C., I just wonder what is it about this area that makes it not even be in the running?” asked Fort Washington resident Dave Owens during the meeting. “We put things in over-crowded areas in Virginia every day, why not put it here and make people come to this area like we just jammed it into Tyson’s Corner?”
Another transit option that was presented at the meeting was the Southern Maryland Rapid Transit (SMRT) system. SMRT aims to install a light-rail train starting from White Plains in Charles County all the way to the Branch Avenue Metro Station. It will include 13 stations throughout the track with five in Charles County and eight in Prince George’s County.
The 18.7-mile light rail would take 40 minutes off of people’s daily commute and cut down the traffic on Indian Head Highway.
According to former Charles County Commissioner Gary Hodge, the project has been thoroughly vetted, having gone through five state studies over the last 25 years. The alignment has been passed since 2010 and what needs to happen now is the approval of the governor and secretary of transportation to commit to $27 million in funding over the next three years to finalize it.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently withheld $2.5 million in funding that would have been used to gain rights to the land for the proposed SMRT. Both Prince George’s and Charles counties would have had to provide $1.25 million in matching funds, and Hogan said at a Board of Public Works meeting that he would rather redistribute the funding for public safety and health priorities.
However, Hodge said all is not lost yet citing the Purple Line as a project that received significant pushback before it was approved.
“The Purple Line is an example of a project like this one that can be done,” Hodge said. “And it can be done cost-effectively.”
In addition to taking 28,000 cars off the Route 5 and Route 301 corridor, Hodge said creating the light rail is essential for public health and economic development in the area.
“I’ve got to tell you right now that this is at a crisis point in terms of congestion on the 5/301 Corridor to the degree that I have warned every policymaker in the state that if we don’t do something about this project, we’re going to have an absolute choking point where nobody will want to do business in this region at all because they can’t efficiently move goods and services and workers in and out of this region,” Hodge said.
Fort Washington resident Richard Pain said that in his 30 years of living in the area, he has seen the traffic get worse. People are stressed out about it, he said mentioning his son, who endured a two-hour commute one way into D.C. every day.
“Transportation is sorely needed in the Accokeek and Fort Washington Area, and what they’re proposing to put it on 301 and 5, they still have no way to get the people from here to there,” he said.
Owens said that any options that decrease the burden on residents is a good option and based on the traffic on 210 and Branch Avenue, “there is no reason that there shouldn’t be some mass transit system, Metro, heavy rail or light rail, from National Harbor down the 210 corridor. There are just too many people on that road.”
“It just becomes easy to say we’ll put it in Huntington; we’ll put it in Old Town, we’ll put in and have everybody go to the National Harbor. But what about all of these people that come up and down 210 every day and they want to go to National Harbor too?” Owens said.
“It’s incumbent upon community people to really push their local politicians to make sure that argument is being made and we can’t just go by proposed ridership.”