Every day, 35,500 vehicles pass by the university’s Route 1 entrance and downtown College Park. That’s nearly one vehicle for every undergraduate and graduate student. And though traffic has decreased in the last decade, thousands of drivers find themselves ensnared by long waits to travel short distances. Some students have to structure their entire mornings around the expectation of gridlock.
It’s past time for the city and university to tackle Route 1’s problems, such as long stoplight waits and traffic bottleneck areas. Planning for a reconstruction project of Route 1 from Interstate 95 to College Avenue began in 1998, but funding and bureaucratic holdups prevented the State Highway Administration from earnestly starting the design of the first of three phases until February 2012. Those plans could be finished by 2015, an SHA spokesman said.
The project would change Route 1 from its five-lane format with a center turn lane into four lanes with a median, sidewalks and bicycle lanes. And with major new funding, it’s possible to move quickly on the project for the first time in 15 years. Last month, the SHA dedicated $8.8 million to the renovations. And though the new gas tax will likely harm working-class taxpayers’ wallets, Route 1 could see drastic improvement with only a fraction of the $4.4 billion the tax is expected to generate.
Administrators need to make tangible progress while keeping the College Park community informed every step of the way.
In university President Wallace Loh’s April 9 email extolling the benefits of the recently passed state budget, he discussed revamping College Park and transportation. With the funding, he wrote, the Purple Line will continue development, and the state can pursue “efforts to revitalize Route 1.” Just as specificity and clear action is needed on the other points of Loh’s email, the administration should clarify what “revitalize” means to help ease commuters’ minds as soon as possible.
Such measures require action mostly from the College Park City Council and the SHA, but the university can help students, faculty and staff understand how Route 1 construction efforts will help — or hurt — their commutes. With frequent email updates, the university community could better understand the political processes guiding construction forward or holding it back. With a better grasp of the issues, constituents could hold their council members accountable for any apparent stalling.
Though the city council discussed transportation as recently as last week, plenty of roadblocks stand between planning and completing the construction. The city council still needs to establish exactly where demand is highest for transportation, direct traffic to less congested areas and — most critically — work with property owners to expand lanes or even begin construction in the first place. Businesses could be hurt by any construction, especially plans that would cut into existing sidewalks.
These physical developments are still thought to be years away, but commuters have griped about Route 1’s safety and traffic problems for more than a decade now. Planners should listen to their concerns instead of holding up progress.
With more funding and the same public outrage, the excuses that have prevented Route 1 progress for years no longer stand up to the reality. Reconstruction would help the city council itself, as more people driving to shops on Route 1 leads to more tax revenue for the city. Crafting an easier drive to College Park and this university would help everyone, though — mostly through the knowledge that Route 1 would finally be a way to get to places faster, not a constant headache.