Maryland to start building long-delayed transit center in Prince George’s

February 15, 2013

Maryland appears to be moving forward with plans to build a long-delayed transit center in Langley Park — home to one of the region’s busiest bus-onlytransfer points.

Groundbreaking for the $31 million project in northwestern Prince George’s County is planned for late spring, and the facility is expected to be completed in the fall of 2015, Maryland transportation officials said.

The project has been delayed for years while the state negotiated the acquisition of the 1.2 acres of land it needs to build the facility. A year ago, the state filed to acquire the site through eminent domain, and with a court date approaching, the state says it is nearing an agreement that would end more than five years of negotiations with the landowner.

When the project is complete, it will be another link in the region’s effort to create more functional transit hubs, with easy connections to work and commercial centers.

Just three miles from Langley Park, Montgomery County has been building a massive transit center in downtown Silver Spring to serve buses, Metrorail and MARC trains. That project, though, has also been delayed and has been plagued by controversy. More than three years behind the original construction schedule, it is now slated to open in September.

In Langley Park, the new transit center is planned for the site of a Taco Bell in the Langley Park Shopping Center, at the intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue. The Takoma/Langley Park Transit Center will be surrounded by a hub of commercial activity, with several discount stores and ethnic restaurants nearby.

The shopping center’s landowner, Land Fair Properties, LLC, resisted the project for years because the owner felt the transit center was “going to dramatically and adversely impact his property,” said Land Fair’s attorney, Joseph P. Suntum of the firm Miller, Miller & Canby. He said the owner is concerned the project will threaten the viability of the shopping center by reducing parking and clogging the shopping center with bus traffic.

Local and state officials, however, say the transit center will improve traffic and pedestrian safety at the intersection, which sits just across the border from Montgomery County.

“I don’t know why anybody will be against this project,” said Prince George’s Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), who represents Langley Park. “They just kept haggling and haggling and haggling.”

The transit center was envisioned more than a decade ago as a central station for buses, where commuters could transfer instead of having to cross dangerous six-lane roads to catch their bus.

“The goal is safety, safety, safety,” said Jim Miller, the project manager with the Maryland Transit Administration. “By getting the buses off the street, we open up some of the street lanes better for the roadway functions, and it gets people off the street so they can get off one bus and on to another bus without having to cut through traffic.”

With 12 bus bays to accommodate 11 Metro and local commuter bus routes, the transit center is projected to have 12,000 passengers boarding buses on a typical weekday, state officials say.

If the proposed light-rail Purple Line is ever built through Montgomery and Prince George’s, a Purple Line station would likely be built at or near the site of the planned transit center.

The State Highway Administration has enhanced nearby bus stops and put fences in along the medians of the state roads to reduce jaywalking. Those changes have helped reduce the pedestrian incidents in the area, local police and government officials say.

Area residents and activists say the transit center remains the key piece missing.

“It is February 2013 and we still don’t have it,” said Erwin Mack, a Takoma Park resident and chairman of the Montgomery County Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee.

“It is way past time,” Mack said, recalling the Washington Post editorial that former Maryland transportation secretary Robert L. Flanagan wrote in July 2006, in which he said the Langley Park transit center was “scheduled to start construction within months.”

Officials with the Maryland Transit Administration declined to discuss details of the negotiations with Land Fair, but an MTA spokesman and the company attorney said the two parties have reached an agreement and plan to finalize it before or at a March court hearing.

To be settled is the amount of compensation for the property owner. Court documents show the two sides are, or least were, very far apart. The state estimates that the market value for the property and the compensation damages total $3,750,000; the property owners estimate damages to be in excess of $20 million.

A budget for the project suggests that planners believe the cost will be somewhere in the middle. The budget document says $13.6 million is designated for land acquisition and other costs, including the relocation of the Taco Bell, state officials said.

Suntum said that despite an impending resolution, the owner continues to fear that the shopping center will suffer. That is also a concern among some of the tenants.

“Business will go down if customers don’t find parking,” said Nelly Medina, whose family owns Mercadito Ramos II, a Latino grocery store that has been at the Langley Park Shopping Center for nearly 20 years.

“At some point we were relieved it was never going to happen,” she said.

Now that the state is poised to acquire the land, local officials say they hope the project will move along without further delay. Bus riders say they already are frustrated with how long it has taken to deliver the project.

Luanga Njoya, a Greenbelt resident who transfers at the crossroads en route to his Silver Spring job, said a transit center would make his long waits at the bus stop more comfortable, providing shelter on rainy and snowy days. Most importantly, he said, it will keep hundred of commuters from haphazardly crossing the treacherous intersection.

“This is a very busy road and people run across just to catch the bus,” he said. “It is very dangerous.”

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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