P.G. council is cool to bypass plan, light rail

Charles officials woo counterparts

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Prince George’s County Council has been playing hard-to-get.

Two years and an election have passed since the last time the Charles County commissioners sought to woo their coy neighbors into a courtship of mutual cooperation in the construction of new transportation projects.

With so much water having passed under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Wednesday’s meeting between the two boards in the romantic setting of the Gaylord National Conference Center in National Harbor took on a special significance for the Charles board.

Commissioners F. Wayne Cooper (D) and Gary V. Hodge (D) came on strong with an agenda that looked a lot like the one the former board presented to the council at the last meeting at the Colony South Hotel in Clinton in 2006.

Competing with the din of ambient music, hollering children, shuffling waiters and a nearby dishwasher at Gaylord’s Pienza Italian Market Restaurant, the men pitched their hopes for cooperation on a new light-rail line to Waldorf and the construction of a U.S. 301 bypass of Waldorf to tables full of council members and staff.

‘‘What we’re looking at is preservation of alignment for light rail in the future,” Cooper said before tagging Hodge in.

Hodge laid on the charm, saying, ‘‘You all have more experience with this than we have. ... We are pleased to be working with you on a mutually beneficial project.”

Hodge explained that a cooperative plan for a light-rail line could be used as a tool to plan and direct growth. He explained that the Maryland Department of Transportation is currently conducting a study to determine the best alignment for the rail. He warned that if the two counties do not cooperate in the planning of the rail line, it would be difficult to secure the federal money needed for it.

Eric Foster, supervisor of transportation planning for the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, tempered Hodge’s enthusiasm, telling the Prince George’s Council, ‘‘This is just the first step.”

‘‘We have hopes it could happen in 10 years,” Cooper said and emphasized the need for Prince George’s County’s cooperation. ‘‘We are a small county compared to Prince George’s. ... You have more students than we have citizens.”

Cooper then shifted to the next topic – a proposed U.S. 301 bypass of Waldorf.

‘‘We don’t know exactly how you all feel about the 301 bypass and what it can do for Prince George’s County,” Cooper said. He said the project could be mutually beneficial ‘‘if you all want to work with us on an alignment.”

Foster again demurred, saying, ‘‘We’d like to avoid bringing another highway corridor on the Prince George’s side of the line.” He added that the planning commission prefers widening the current highway and adding a rail line.

But Hodge was not that easily dissuaded.

‘‘We have a need to talk more to each other about what those concerns are,” Hodge said. He called on the council and its staff to consider each other’s problems ‘‘in a sympathetic way.”

‘‘I don’t know that we have exhaustively looked at how to do that,” Hodge said.

Members of the Prince George’s County Council perked up when the Charles commissioners detailed proposals to recycle Prince George’s wastewater and garbage in Charles’ proposed sewage treatment loop and transfer station. And they didn’t object to a Charles proposal to use drinking water from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission supply.

After the meeting, Charles officials praised the Prince George’s council for its large attendance at the meeting and its rapt attention to Charles’ proposals. Charles officials believe they have opened a door to a new, more fruitful relationship with the council.