Consent elusive on park-and-ride lots for commuters

Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007

Because of traffic and safety concerns at the intersection of Route 5 and Route 6 in New Market, the St. Mary’s Planning Commission turned down plans for a state park-and-ride lot in April.

On Tuesday, state bureaucrats were given several different opinions from local elected officials as to what should happen to the commuter parking lot, leaving the state still in need of planning approvals. The process began in 2001.

The overall goal is to build two new park-and-ride lots, one in New Market and the other in Charlotte Hall, to replace the parking lot leased from Ben Burroughs in Charlotte Hall. There are 600 leased parking spots there, and the Maryland Department of Transportation wants to build two 500-spot lots, for a total of 1,000.

The commuter buses serving Southern Maryland carried 522,000 riders in fiscal 2006.

Del. John F. Wood Jr. (D-St. Mary’s, Charles) asked the planners why they wanted to build two parking lots instead of one. ‘‘It’s a thousand cars at one intersection; that’s really the issue,” said Ernest Baisden, manager in the project development division of the Maryland Transit Administration. ‘‘That’s a lot of traffic at one intersection,” so the goal is to break it up into two at different locations.

‘‘New Market is a huge, huge concern for me,” Wood said, who lives on New Market Turner Road. ‘‘I think you’re going to back traffic up.”

Tom Hannan, consultant with Whitman Requardt Associates, said the turn lanes would be lengthened and the traffic impact would be offset. He also noted that the buses would only run on weekdays and not on Saturday when the intersection at New Market is busy from activities at nearby Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School and 5th District Park.

Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D) offered an alternative entrance⁄exit for the New Market lot, which the planners said they had not studied much.

Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) said park-and-ride lots should be located near locations with access to light rail. ‘‘Our park and ride needs to be next to existing rail right of way,” he said, noting that it was his minority opinion among the commissioners. The county government owns an old railroad right of way that could theoretically be used for a light-rail system, although there are not plans for such a service.

Mattingly also suggested a third parking lot may be needed in the Hollywood area because the parking lot at St. Mary’s County Regional Airport is seeing heavy use from those who take the commuter bus from there.

But both Mattingly and Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D) agreed the projects need to keep moving before state funding is pulled away. ‘‘We don’t want to lose them because we know we have need,” Mattingly said.

The goal is to start construction at the New Market location on county land in November 2009. At the Charlotte Hall location, that property needs to be purchased and construction is slated for fall 2010. F. Elliott ‘‘Sonny” Burch owns the land and Baisden named him as a willing seller.

The state’s lease with Burroughs at the existing location expires in December 2010. That lease would be let go if the new Charlotte Hall location is secured, Baisden said.

E-mail Jason Babcock at