CSG testimony to Prince George’s House Delegation for 2024 session

November 30, 2023

Please accept this testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the Washington, DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all. We also support and work closely with RISE Prince George’s, a group of energetic residents.

Overall, CSG urges the delegation to act through legislation, administrative oversight, and budget oversight to prioritize transit, and redirect highway capacity expansion projects to sustainable multimodal transportation solutions. We also urge support for Rental Housing Works to ensure Prince George’s has the resources it needs for its robust affordable housing program.

We wish to express specific support for Bill PG 301-24 – Traffic Control Device Monitoring Systems. This bill would allow camera enforcement of traffic control signs, such as stop signs. We know that automated enforcement can be an effective and efficient way to improve safety. Given Prince George’s tremendous traffic safety challenges, this is a tool we should have. 

Below is a summary of our legislative and budget priorities for Prince George’s County:

  1. Fully fund Maryland’s share of WMATA’s FY25 operating budget and avert catastrophic transit service cuts. 
  2. Support and fund the Silver Hill Road (MD 458) tactical bus lanes in Suitland, and support legislation to enable enforcement, including automated traffic enforcement. 
  3. Redirect investment in the Medical Center Drive/I-495 interchange project to an urban boulevard design that supports safe walking and biking access, and expedite funding for the Central Avenue Corridor Connector Trail and direct bridge between Downtown Largo and Morgan Boulevard Metro.
  4. Oppose I-495/I-270 Toll lanes and VDOT I-495 Southside Study, and support alternative transit and transportation demand management approaches.
  5. Support a Major Highway Project Impact Assessment bill to ensure that proposed highway projects are consistent with state Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) goals.
  6. Retrofit urban state highways, especially near transit stations, to support safety and transit-oriented development, including Central Ave. (MD 214) and East-West Highway (MD 410). 
  7. Support legislation to establish that the State Highway Administration is responsible for maintaining both roads and sidewalks on state rights of way in urban areas. 
  8. Fund Rental Housing Works – the state’s successful affordable housing funding program leverages money essential for Prince George’s robust rental housing program.

Below, we address in more details these priorities for the upcoming session.

1. Prioritize transit

Address WMATA’s fiscal cliff for its FY25 operating budget: Metro expects an operating deficit of $750 million starting in FY25 and a growing deficit in following years. We urge the state to address WMATA’s near-term potentially catastrophic budget shortfalls, and its midterm capital budget shortfall. The region would falter without a strong Metrorail and Metro bus system.

Support Silver Hill Road (MD 458) tactical bus lanes in Suitland: WMATA has worked with the county, MD SHA, and community stakeholders to create a Silver Hill Road tactical bus lane project for this high ridership route of more than 12,000 rides a day. We ask the delegation to support local and state agencies efforts to agree on an  implementation plan.This should be the first of many bus priority projects to provide more cost-effective, reliable bus service.

Support bus priority enforcement, including photo enforcement: As the Silver Hill Road bus lanes are put in place, we need the appropriate enforcement mechanisms such as clear fines for violations, and automated photo enforcement to ensure buses get the priority they need.

2. Rethink costly highway expansion projects

Medical Center Drive/I-495 interchange will effectively block walk access to Downtown Largo: SHA’s proposal for a massive, complex, multilane, high-speed $90+ million interchange is completely at odds with a vibrant, walkable Downtown Largo and connectivity to the stadium area. The proposal would severely degrade walk and bike access on the only I-495 crossing to Downtown Largo that even has a sidewalk or path. We ask MDOT to instead develop multimodal urban boulevard design alternatives for the Medical Center Drive/I-495 interchange with buffered walk/bike facilities; low speed, narrower, safer crossings; enhanced walk/bike access where MD 214 and MD 202 cross I-495; expedited Central Avenue Connector Trail and bridge providing the direct walk/bike connection from Downtown Largo to Morgan Boulevard; and Transportation Systems Management (TSM) approach to distribute vehicle trips to all three of the interchanges that serve Downtown Largo, the stadium, and the Blue Line corridor. 

Oppose I-495/I-270 Toll lanes and VDOT I495 Southside Study: These costly highway expansion proposals are inherently flawed by bias and failure to include a comprehensive Metrorail, land use, demand management alternative. The Capital Beltway and I-270 toll lanes would reinforce the east-west racial and economic divide that marks the Maryland suburbs by requiring Prince George’s commuters to either pay high tolls to reach the concentrations of jobs on the west side of the region or to sit in the general purpose lane traffic that toll companies require in order to make money.  VDOT’s I-495 Southside express lanes alternatives will impose a major traffic bottleneck on Prince George’s and will make the promised Metrorail extension even more remote. We ask MDOT to step up to address the problematic approach VDOT is taking, and put renewed focus on the Blue/Orange/Silver Line Metro Capacity Study. 

Support a Major Highway Project Impact Assessment bill: We ask that MDOT’s responsibility be legislated to align its major highway projects with the State of Maryland’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). We request support for an anticipated bill that will require impact assessments for major highway projects and determine if mitigation measures are needed to offset adverse GHG emissions and induced driving impacts, the state’s transportation system to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Vehicle Miles Traveled. Reducing GHG emissions and VMT is important for addressing climate change, equity, a transit funding crisis and economic vitality. We can reduce VMT by fostering transit-oriented communities with safer walk and bicycling conditions and roadway designs, more frequent, reliable and accessible transit service, and other measures to reduce single occupancy vehicle use and better use of low and no emissions travel options. Proposed highway projects that cannot address their emissions and induced driving impacts through these and other types of mitigation measures will require rescoping or a halt in the project development process.

3. Retrofit urban state highways to support safety, access, and transit-oriented development

Act to achieve Vision Zero: Given that 19 out of 20 of the roads in the County’s high injury network are state roads, we urge expedited planning and construction to slow down hazardous roads and build out safe multimodal facilities. The state should also recognize and comply with the County’s Urban Street Design Standards as a baseline for designing safer, slower urban streets.

Sidewalk maintenance on state highways should be an SHA responsibility, especially around transit stations. We ask the delegation to support legislation that establishes SHA’s responsibility for maintaining not only state roads but also the sidewalks for the state roads. 

Tame Central Avenue (MD 214) with a road diet: We ask the delegation to support SHA in moving forward with a road diet – reallocating one travel lane in each direction. This will help reduce travel speeds and reclaim space for safer walking and biking, including by creating protected bike lanes. The road diet and walk/bike facilities should be planned for the full length of MD 214 from the District line to MD 202.

Retrofit East-West Highway (MD 410): From Riggs Road to MD 500, MD 410 is an urban highway that tops the priority list of the Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (PSAP). This corridor has missing sidewalks; fast, overly wide roads; a mix of land uses; and people walking, biking, riding transit, and driving.

4. Fund the successful affordable housing program: Rental Housing Works

We ask the delegation to ensure the funding of Rental Housing Works, the state’s successful investment program leverages funds essential for Prince George’s robust affordable rental housing program. With an investment of $275 million in FY25, the State will provide Rental Housing Works and MDHCD with the capital needed to deliver thousands of units of affordable housing, tens of thousands of good paying jobs, and leverage billions in private sector capital on an expedited timetable.

Thank you for your consideration. 

Cheryl Cort
Policy Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth