It has always bothered the Rev. Betty Peebles that parishioners coming to her Jericho City of Praise in Landover are unable to use the most convenient exit off the Capital Beltway: Arena Drive.
Since FedEx Field opened in 1997, the ramp has been open only for Redskins games and other special events, forcing worshipers at the 19,000-member megachurch -- and thousands of other motorists -- to exit at Landover Road or Central Avenue.
But state and Prince George's County officials announced yesterday that the Arena Drive exit will be reopened round-the-clock starting in 2008 as part of a $28 million plan to improve highway interchanges in the area.
"Oh, my goodness. This is great," Peebles said. "We have people coming to our church from all across the area, and we need access."
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) joined Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R), Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) and state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) in a roadside ceremony announcing the project.
"The community constantly said, 'Why can't we open this ramp?' " Johnson said.
Maryland Secretary of Transportation Robert L. Flanagan said the Federal Highway Administration limited access to the exit ramp because of safety concerns about its proximity to the Route 202 exit.
"The ramps in the area were not designed for safe on-and-off traffic," Flanagan said. "When Arena Drive is open, the ramp at 202 is shut down because it is too close. We had to come up with a design that allowed this ramp to be open as well."
For Steele, a resident of Largo, the issue was personal. "When the governor and I came into office, we firmly believed that if we came together with our federal partners, we could come up with a solution. People who wanted to do business here had to drive miles out of the way to get where they wanted to go."
Those who shop and eat at the popular Boulevard at the Capital Center will also find getting to their destination a good deal easier.
Matt Lovelace, a member of the soccer team at nearby Prince George's Community College, said he can't wait for the ramp to reopen.
"I like going to Chic-fil-A to get sweet tea and a chicken sandwich, and now it will be easier to go there before I go to class."