Officials pledge to help La Plata finish Heritage Green Parkway

Railroad crossing a longstanding issue

Friday, Aug. 31, 2007

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Staff Photo by Gary Smith
CSX Corp. says that the town must close three rail crossings in La Plata to obtain permission to cross the tracks for the extension of Heritage Green Parkway.

State and federal elected officials are promising to help La Plata gain approval for a railroad crossing the town needs to build a road that will run through a planned mixed-use development.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and state delegates representing Charles County said they will help resolve a longstanding problem the town has had in obtaining permission from CSX Corp. to use a railroad crossing off Washington Avenue.

The town needs to obtain the railroad right of way to build the four-lane Heritage Green Parkway, which will run from Route 6 near Willow Lane to Rosewick Road. A loop off the parkway will cross the railroad tracks, allowing motorists to access Washington Avenue.

A portion of Heritage Green Parkway running from Washington Avenue to U.S. 301 near the Food Lion and Wal-Mart shopping centers was built in the 1990s.

The planned four-lane roadway will serve Heritage Green, a community that will contain more than 3,000 residences, retail and commercial establishments and an elementary school. Construction of the parkway and a golf course slated for Heritage Green must begin before building can start in the community.

After hearing La Plata’s plea, Charles County Dels. Murray D. Levy (D), Sally Y. Jameson (D) and Peter F. Murphy (D) told the town council in a recent letter they would help obtain the crossing.

Levy said building Heritage Green Parkway is an essential component of the town’s transportation plan that fits in with the concept of smart growth — which encourages high-density housing projects that also contain retail stores and business offices so people can work and shop near where they live.

‘‘If we’re going to have smart growth, we have to accommodate it,” he said Monday. ‘‘One of the problems La Plata has is traffic, and the parkway will help deal with that.”

The 1990 annexation of the 805-acre parcel with the Davis Corp. included permission from the Consolidated Rail Corp. for the town to cross the railroad tracks on the condition that another crossing in town be closed, according to town officials. An unused crossing near Washington Avenue at Shining Willow Way was selected for closure under the former agreement.

Several years later, the property was sold to GP Homes of McLean, Va., and Conrail was purchased by CSX — rendering some terms of the former annexation agreement void.

CSX told elected officials that the town must close three rail crossings in La Plata to obtain permission to cross the tracks for the parkway, according to town officials.

CSX did not return phone calls from the Maryland Independent this week.

The developer agreed to improve the three crossings, but CSX officials did not accept the offer, said Ward 1 Councilman James Goldsmith.

The delegation’s and Mikulski’s interest in the situation bodes well for the town, Goldsmith said.

‘‘The situation is more positive now than it was six months ago,” he said, adding the La Plata Planning Commission recently gave final plat approval for the construction of 293 homes in the development.

Levy said it is costly for CSX to maintain rail crossings. He suggested the cost of maintaining the Heritage Green rail crossing could be shared.

‘‘Maybe we can work with CSX to deal with that issue,” he said. ‘‘If cost is a factor, maybe the town and county and state can address that.”

Mikulski noted in a letter to the town council that she has asked Michael Ward, CSX president, to ‘‘take a fresh look at this important matter and to work directly with La Plata.”

Ward 3 Councilwoman Paretta ‘‘Paddy” Mudd said Tuesday she did not want to comment on the issue.

Mayor Gene Ambrogio remains skeptical about whether the town will be able to obtain the at-grade crossing.

‘‘It’s good to have the support of federal and state elected officials, but it seems that nobody can tell CSX what to do,” he said. ‘‘It’s seems that it’s its own entity. If we have other governmental entities in on this, it probably will carry more weight.”

Ward 2 Council Scot Lucas said he is heartened by the state and federal elected officials’ interest in the case.

‘‘It’s great to get everybody involved in this,” he said. ‘‘The delegation has always been responsive to issues in Southern Maryland, and we appreciate their quick response to our request for assistance.”

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