The Sky Is Falling!

Dear Readers,
No, it isn’t. And the state isn’t going to widen Route 410, either.
That’s not what some panicky e-mail writers think – and they have been driving the city’s e-mail list populace into a tizzy over it . The city council, they say, is handing Route 410 over to the state, which may widen it to four lanes!

The pixel of truth in that Photoshopped picture is that the city is negotiating with the state to trade ownership of Route 410 for a payment of $696,000, road repairs, and Flower Avenue.
As a condition of the deal, however, the State Highway Administration (SHA) would agree not to widen it. But, the condition is not ironclad enough for some. The deal is “a singularly bad idea,” said Lorraine Pearsall, who addressed the council’s November 1 meeting to express her distrust of the SHA . E-mails to city discussion lists express the same.
The comments may cause the council to delay the agreement. That’s not a problem, they are no longer in a hurry to close the deal. There was concern that if the governership changed hands in the recent election, there would be a different SHA administration to restart negotiations with. The incumbent having won, that is no longer a driving factor.
Fortunately for the concerned citizens, Councilmember Colleen Clay already delayed the deal. Though the rest of the council seemed ready to sign off on it Nov. 1, Clay wanted a new demand inserted. She wants to require city permits as well as SHA permits for utility work on the street. One of the contributing factors to the street’s bad condition is that utilities can dig holes in a state highway with just an SHA permit, but they often do a shoddy job of patching their holes when they are done. The city currently has no power to force them to do a better job of it.
No Wider
City staff and council say that though SHA was once interested in making Route 410 four lanes wide through the city, the costs, effort, potential legal challenges, and political pressure make another attempt unlikely. State and county representatives’ staff have been helpful in crafting language that will prevent SHA from widening the road, said Suzanne Ludlow, Deputy City Manager. Indeed, a representative from Maryland representative Heather Mizeur’s office was present at the Nov. 1 council meeting to answer councilmembers questions.
The draft agreement reads, “SHA agrees to comply with the provisions of the Takoma Park Master Plan regarding numbers of through lanes and other transportation features of MD 410 and MD 195 within the City of Takoma Park.” The Master Plan keeps 410 as a 2 lane street, same as now.
Route 410, also known as “East-West Highway” is now an important but convoluted traffic artery through the city. The route follows parts of three city streets: Ethan Allen, Carroll, and Philadelphia Avenues. Within city boundaries it is two-lanes wide. On either side of the city it widens to four lanes.
That section of road has been the subject of council discussion since last February, as dedicated granolapark readers know. (scroll down to “Road Trip”). The city had been trying, with no success, to get the State Highway Administration (SHA) to repair the Ethan Allen blocks of the route. SHA stopped maintenance there citing the city’s ownership as the reason. There is speculation that when the budget got tight the SHA found this excuse to stop.
Even though the city owns the land under it, it is still a state highway, subject to state control (the city can’t put crosswalks, lights, or stop signs on it without SHA approval).
Flower Arrangement
SHA is offering not only repair work and a sum of money, but ownership of Flower Avenue to the city. Flower Avenue, currently a state road, goes nowhere as far as the SHA is concerned. They want rid of it. The city hopes to transform Flower Avenue into a pleasant “green street” – with better traffic calming measures and possibly a bike lane. The SHA $696,000 payment will be spent on Flower Avenue repairs and improvements.
The most recent draft of the proposed agreement can be downloaded as a pdf from the city web site. It is item 2 on the November 1 meeting agenda.
Now, calm down!

– 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.