D.C. bypass due 2nd look Opponents killed earlier proposal

September 22, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS — A headline in most of Tuesday's editions about a study o traffic congestion on U.S. 301 in Southern Maryland erroneously stated that a superhighway bypass around Washington was tTC being reconsidered.

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland transportation officials unveiled yesterday plans for a comprehensive study of traffic-clogged U.S. 301 through Prince George's County and Southern Maryland, a corridor previously considered as a possible route for the controversial eastern bypass around Washington.

Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer said the study does not represent a revival of the "dead" bypass proposal but is a unique, multifaceted approach to assessing the region's transportation needs.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The study, which is expected to take three years, will focus on U.S. 301 from the Potomac River to the U.S. 50 interchange.

The state will enlist a task force of state and local government officials, environmental advocates and residents to come up with a consensus on what should be done -- or not done -- to improve traffic conditions in the area, he said.

Mr. Lighthizer said the group will consider more than possible improvement to roads or mass transit. It also will assess how changes to the corridor would affect the environment, economic development and land use in the region, he said.

"It's the most comprehensive transportation study we've ever undertaken," Mr. Lighthizer said. "It has no preconceived notions about what the recommendation will be. Doing nothing will be an option."

Officials said the study could lead to a widening of U.S. 301 or construction of a parallel bypass through heavily congested areas such as Waldorf and La Plata.

One transit option under review is a light-rail line from the Washington Metro's Branch Avenue stop that would run along Route 5. Another is passenger rail service to Washington and Baltimore using Conrail freight tracks.

None of the improvements is likely to be implemented until the beginning of the next century, however, Mr. Lighthizer said.

The proposal to build an eastern bypass, a superhighway around Washington, was shelved two years ago amid widespread opposition from local elected officials and environmentalists, and lack of support to pay for a multibillion-dollar project.

Residents of nearby areas such as Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore worried about interstate traffic spilling over to U.S. 50 and Route 3, and environmental advocates fretted about the impact on sensitive wetlands.

But many of those opponents said yesterday that they support the U.S. 301 study. For the first time, they said, transportation is being looked at in the context of the repercussions in a region, not just as a way to relieve traffic jams.

"This is a fantastic opportunity," said Lee R. Epstein of the private, non-profit Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "This is a way to get around the head-to-head confrontation approach, which is the way things have been done around here for years and years."

"The project is a testing ground," said Ann Swanson of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a panel composed of legislators from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to name the members of the task force by the end of October. Transportation officials said they had not determined the size of the task force or the study's cost.

The agency has hired Robert G. Kramer, a popular former Anne '' Arundel County delegate, to organize the effort. His $120,000 contract runs through the end of this year and is likely to be renewed for two more years.

Southern Maryland and the U.S. 301 corridor have grown rapidly in recent years, with thousands of new homes and an abundance of strip-style commercial development along the four-lane, divided highway.

Calvert and Charles counties were Maryland's second- and third-fastest-growing jurisdictions behind Howard County over that period, according to the 1990 census.

The region typically has attracted people who commute to work in Washington but want a more rural lifestyle. A State Highway Administration survey of U.S. 301 traffic found that only 10 percent of the motorists had an origin or destination out of state.

"It's a developing area with a tremendous amount of growth that has outstripped the capacity of the roads," said Hal Kassoff, administrator of the Highway Administration.

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