Swap Meet

Dear Readers,
The State Highway Administration (SHA) [Boo! Hiss!] wants to swap Flower Avenue for Ethan Allen Avenue. The city can have Flower to maintain and put as many crosswalks, handicap access points, and stop signs on it as it wants. In exchange the SHA [Boo! Hiss!] gets the Ethan Allan Avenue portion of Rte. 410 aka “East West Highway.”
“But, wait!” you say, “The SHA [Boo! Hiss!] already owns both of these roads.”

Your Gilbert is impressed with your knowledge of this issue, Dear Reader! Yes, both of these roads are state highways, owned and maintained by the SHA [Boo! Hiss!]. And that agency has for decades done just that. In recent cash-strapped years the SHA [B! H!] decided that the city “owned” it and was therefore responsible for maintenance, but since it was still a state road, the city had to continue applying to SHA [B! H!] for permits if they wanted to make any changes. So, as far as the state was concerned we “owned” it, but didn’t own it.
So, they are offering to maintain Ethan Allen like they used to do in exchange for the city taking over maintenance and control of Flower Avenue.
Oh, and by the way, SHA [B! H!] won’t have the funds to repair Ethan Allen Avenue until 2012 at the earliest. That stretch of road is currently in bad shape. The suggestion was made, half-jokingly, that the city should put up signs there saying something like “Drive carefully! State maintained road.”
The city council considered the proposed swap at their April 22 meeting, and decided to turn it down.
The discussed the many oddities of the situation, including the fact that while the state maintains the road “curb to curb,” the sidewalks are the responsibility of the local government. So on Flower Avenue the road is the state’s, the north sidewalk is the county’s, and the east sidewalk is the city’s. It is also the state’s responsibility to plow in winter. Though it is a main city artery, it is a low-priority side-track to the state, so it is at the bottom of their plowing list, said city public works director Daryl Braithwaite.
Taking over the plowing and maintenance of Flower would not be a big stretch, she said. Councilmember Fred Schultz said “why swap?” The city should consider taking over Flower without an exchange, he said.
When utilities want to dig up a street in Takoma Park, they apply to the city for permits. But if the city street is a state road, they apply to the state. The state does not hold utilities to same strict road-repair standards as the city’s, however. This in part explains why Ethan Allen Ave. is in such bad shape, said Braithwaite.
Speaking of utilities, Washington Gas will soon be tearing up a lot of Ethan Allen to install new gas lines. So, the SHA [B! H!] maintainance schedule notwithstanding, most of that avenue will be resurfaced by the utility when it is finished.

– Gilbert

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.