Finding ways to untangle traffic and help attract high-paying jobs are among the top goals proposed for a Charles County committee examining how Waldorf should grow.

The issues were selected by about 30 community residents who joined the 15-member committee for its second meeting, held Tuesday at the Charles County Community College near La Plata.

In a survey, participants ranked traffic and the economy as the most important of the 23 issues considered. Ranked closely behind was a need to expand Waldorf's role beyond that of a retail center, followed by a need to ensure there are enough schools for a growing population.

The committee's study is scheduled to last for a year or longer and is intended to improve community planning.

"The point of the whole study is to create a vision for Waldorf and put a plan in place that can guide the physical development of the town," said Clive Graham, a senior planner with Environmental Resources Management, an Annapolis consulting group hired to assist the committee.

Results will help guide county officials contending with growth in Waldorf, which forms the heart of the area designated for most of the county's residential and commercial development.

Waldorf was little more than a country crossroads a generation ago, but now is Charles County's leading retail and population center.

It has no formal boundaries because it is not incorporated as a town or city.

The Waldorf planning area could encompass as much as half of the county's population of 120,000. The 6th Election District, which includes areas near U.S. Route 301 and sections immediately west of the road, has about 61,000 residents, according to county estimates.

Despite its importance in county life, Waldorf has never been the subject of comprehensive planning. The result, according to some observers, is a shapeless array of housing developments and shopping centers.

"It is an area of economic vitality which exhibits all the usual commercial strip hallmarks: vast areas of paving, competition for advertising, and traffic confusion," said the county's 1997 Comprehensive Plan, the county government's main document for guiding growth. "The area appears generic: development . . . is indistinguishable from development in other areas."

The comprehensive plan suggested that Waldorf planners address a number of questions, including whether a true town center can be established.

Waldorf has no courthouse or public square that could form a natural town center. On Tuesday, most participants who were asked to pick Waldorf's center chose the intersections of U.S. Route 301 and Maryland Route 5, a high-traffic, commercialized crossroads that is not amenable to pedestrians.

Group participants also were asked to identify Waldorf's boundaries. They largely accepted county planners' working definition, which describes an area stretching from the county's northern border to White Plains, and from the eastern edge of the large St. Charles development to Middletown Road on the west.

Other issues the committee will examine include: how to break up the long Route 301 commercial strip; how to improve degraded areas; whether to establish architectural guidelines; how development might fit in with light rail service to the Washington area; and whether there are opportunities for development along Route 5 Relocated, the Mattawoman-Beantown Road.

The committee is among several ad hoc groups formed by Charles commissioners to examine issues facing the growing county. One group is looking into whether a bypass around Waldorf is needed to cope with increasing traffic congestion on Route 301, and another is examining whether to change the county's form of government. A third committee is working to establish a detailed plan for Bryans Road in western Charles County.

The Waldorf committee expects to finish the bulk of its work next year, but may take longer to make sure its results do not conflict with the conclusions of the Route 301 committee, Graham said.

The public may participate in the next meeting of the Waldorf committee, which is set for Nov. 6, Graham said. Those interested in doing so should contact the county's planning department at 301-645-0540.