Historic preservationists, aviation buffs, the FAA and College Park city officials have banded together to oppose a highway rerouting project supported by the Prince George's County Public Works Department that would slice through part of the College Park Airport.

The highway project would provide an alternate route for a section of Calvert Road being rerouted because of Metro construction scheduled to begin next year. The new College Park Metro station also is being built on airport property.

More than half a dozen alternate routes have been studied, but at a public hearing last week, Prince George's County Public Works Director James Novak announced that his department favored either of two northern routes, which would run from Good Luck Road to Rte. 1 at the University of Maryland campus. One of those routes would slice off from one to three acres of the airport, 18 feet from where original plane hangars stood. The other route may also pass through airport property.

County officials said the northern routes were the best alternatives because traffic surveys show that nearly 85 percent of the drivers on the road want to go north of the university and the proposal would provide direct access from the university to the Metro station.

"The chosen alternate best serves the transportation needs of those persons trying to go from Kenilworth Avenue to U.S. 1 by way of Calvert Road," said county public works engineer William Boyce. Such a direct route, he said in an interview, would help deter accidents and traffic jams, thus saving the county money.

"Studies have shown that the northern route is better overall for the citizens of this county," said Selia Shoffner-Glenn, a spokeswoman for the county department of public works and transportation.

County Executive Parris Glendening has not announced which route he will support.

The final decision on the route rests with federal highway officials, who will announce their plans this fall.

John S. Toll, president of the University of Maryland, which supports the northern alternatives, said he is pleased by the county's choice. He said the route would provide easy access to Metro for a several students.

The proposals have drawn the interest of a group of local historic preservationists and city residents seeking to restore parts of the 78-year-old airport, which was used by the Wright Brothers to give flying lessons in 1909. The airport was recently added to the National Register for Historic Places.

"When do we stop this business of eroding the past? Everybody seems to say we'll do it on my watch and take care of the rest later and to hell with yesterday," said former county airport commission chairman George Hardy. "We need these sites to educate and inspire future generations."

Preservationists said that when they complete their plans to rebuild the old hangars, the noise and vibration from the road and the Metro station would detract from the museum atmosphere they are trying to create. And College Park City Council member Michael Jacobs argued at the public hearing that the airport, which was once 260 acres, already has been whittled down to 40 acres.

Elliott Perret, an engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration, also expressed concern at the hearing that the county-preferred route could affect operations at the airport, which handles about 20,000 landings of small- and medium-sized planes each year and handles the small-plane traffic FAA officials are seeking to keep away from the three major airports in the Washington-Baltimore area.

"We are concerned that there are a number of places {where} small airports have become uneconomical to keep, and communities have allowed areas to be developed. We want to maintain all the viable airports we can encourage," Perrett said, adding that at least five small airports in the area have closed because of development in the past year.

College Park officials also said "When do we stop this business of eroding the past?"

-- George Hardy

College Park officials also said

that the northern routes could threaten the character of the neighborhoods in the area. For several years, local officials, preservationists, environmentalists and developers have complained that poor planning, special interests and lack of communication threaten the stability of College Park neighborhoods, soon to change with the new Metro construction and associated high-density zoning.

Both the northern and southern routes would cut through a park, but opponents of the northern alternates argue that the northern routes would also damage wetlands and flood plains.

However, county officials argue that environmental damage could be overcome if the county or the university gave up land to add to current parks.

Opponents of the northern routes also point to an environmental impact study contracted by the county that found that traffic on the routes would create noise problems for about 23 houses in the area.

Martin Rody, director of planning services with the National Capital Planning Commission, said the commission's position is that the northern routes are not acceptable primarily because of the airport. The commission, he said, favors a southern route because it provides the shortest distance across a park and causes the least environmental damage.

The southern route, also favored by government officials in Riverdale and Hyattsville as well as College Park, would not disturb businesses or residences, the survey indicated.