Transit, highway and aviation experts were among the participants in a high-powered panel discussion convened by the Charles County Chamber of Commerce last week to discuss the present and future of transportation in Charles County and the surrounding region. Elected officials, candidates for office, business leaders and members of the general public filled the Geissenbier Room at the Greater Waldorf Jaycees Community Center for Thursday’s event, billed as a “Transportation Conversation” that would allow attendees to ask questions about bridge and road construction, public transit and the Maryland Airport. James F.
Ports Jr., the deputy secretary for operations at the Maryland Department of Transportation, opened the discussion by reviewing the highlights of various transportation initiatives that have been undertaken across the state over the last three years by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration. Ports noted that the State Highway Administration has provided £7.5 million in highway user revenues for Charles County, and EZ Pass use is up 15 percent throughout the county.
Ports said that highway toll revenues are a major source of funding for the new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge.
Michael Blair and Heather Lowe, MDOT project managers, discussed the latest plans for the bridge, which links western Charles County and King George County in Virginia via U.S.
301. “We’ve been working to cut project costs, which we were able to do by over £200 million compared to the original 2012 estimate,” Lowe said. “We anticipate advertising the project for construction this fall and breaking ground in August 2020, with a new bridge opening to traffic in 2023.” The new bridge will be located just north of the existing bridge, which will be kept open during construction. The existing Nice Bridge is nearly 80 years old.
Blair said that about half of the cost savings was the result of reducing the width of the shoulder lanes that had been planned for each side of the bridge. The other major cost savings will be the result of narrowing the bridge’s clearances between piers, which will allow designers to choose from a wider range of bridge designs. Blair explained that the Nice Bridge construction contract will use what is called a “bid-alternate” approach to the proposed hiker-biker path that will allow the builder to submit separate bids for a dedicated lane and a shared lane, and MDOT will then select the option it prefers.
A shared lane would allow the overall width of the bridge to be reduced by a further 10 feet, which would save more money, though this option is not popular with advocates of a dedicated hiker-biker lane. “The question isn’t, ‘Will there be bike accommodations at the Nice Bridge?'” Blair said. “There will be; its just [a question of] how we’re going to do it.” Ashish Solanki, the regional aviation assistance director at the Maryland Aviation Administration, noted that over the last 20 years the state has invested more than £20 million in improvements to the Maryland Airport, the privately owned airport located east of Indian Head.
Advocates for economic development in the western part of Charles County have long emphasized the value of the airport due in part to its proximity to Naval Support Facility Indian Head. At least two unnamed firms have entered discussions to buy the airport in the past six months, though it appears that neither has yet to pan out. Approximately 200 acres of land around the airport had been slated for commercial development, which could potentially make the airport that much more enticing as a base of operations for a buyer.
The Charles County Board of Commissioners is exploring putting all but 50 acres of that land into a conservation easement after acquiring it for £6 million several years ago. Solanki noted that plans to complete an extension of the airport’s runway and construction of a new control tower were dependent on the owners’ schedule as well as the Federal Aviation Administration’s own priorities. Attendees also learned that the county’s bus commuters will soon be able to purchase tickets and track buses using mobile apps that will be rolling out later this year.
Currently, no funds are available to provide another bus route to Indian Head to replace the recently cancelled express service. The county is exploring updates to its plans for pedestrian and bicycle routes, according to Jason Groth, Charles County’s chief of resources and infrastructure management. Groth noted that a spate of recent accidents has led the county to take steps to ensure there is adequate separation from car lanes for people who walk and ride bikes.
Groth explained that the county is not exploring the possibility of further widening Route 5 or U.S.
301 to relieve traffic congestion in order to preserve rights-of-way for future mass-transit routes. Last year’s Southern Maryland Rapid Transit (SMRT) study identified the Route 5/301 corridor from the Branch Avenue Metro station in Prince George’s County to White Plains as the proposed route for either a light rail line or a bus rapid transit route. Groth and the county commissioners have advocated for the light rail option, while the Hogan Administration has said that it would not fund the necessary environmental impact studies for a rail system and instead prefers the bus option.
Whether bus or rail, the need for a mass transit option in Southern Maryland is acute. George Clark, a transportation demand management specialist with the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland, said that the council estimates that 63 percent of Charles County residents commute out of the county for work, and expects that number to soon reach 71 percent. Clark said that the council has collected the names of 3,500 people who are interested in participating in ride-share options as an interim solution.
Traffic congestion in the region can also be reduced through the use of broadband Internet access, which provides residents with options to work from home or from satellite offices. Drew VanDopp of the Maryland Broadband Cooperative praised Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin and the town’s government for their efforts to bring fiber optic cable to NSF Indian Head and the surrounding area, from which service to other areas can be branched off. “The first 100-gigabit circuit just went online from the Eastern Shore to Ashburn [Va.],” VanDopp explained. “We hope to be able to branch it into Southern Maryland soon.”
Responding to concerns that the state government was shortchanging Charles County on mass transit, Ports pointed out that the state currently has a transportation budget of £14.5 billion to meet over £75 billion worth of needs across Maryland.
“We’re trying to solve congestion all over the state,” Ports said.
Andrew Ellson, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Rob Anderson runs the service from his home after connecting his neighbours to faster speedsTIMDAY/BNPS
An IT expert became so frustrated with slow internet speeds that he set up his own broadband service to connect the whole village. Rob Anderson installed his superfast broadband in Iken, Suffolk, which has resulted in download speeds 100 times faster than the 0.25 megabits per second offered by mainstream providers. Twenty-nine out of the 40 households have signed up.
Mr Anderson, 47, decided to act after he discovered that the neighbouring hamlet of Snape gained better speeds from underground cables. He installed a connection to Snape’s fibre broadband and got its two pubs to act as the base station and relay transmitter, beaming the wifi to Iken. He launched Bootstrap Broadband charging GBP90 for installation and offering packages from GBP25 to GBP45 a month,…
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01 February, 2018 – 10:34
Residents campaigning for improved broadband access met with Clive Selley from Openreach. Picture: OFFICE OF JO CHURCHIL
Residents campaigning for improved broadband access in rural areas were given the opportunity to speak to the chief executive of Openreach at an event last week.
The meeting was organised by Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, who invited Clive Selley from the telecommunications company to answer questions from frustrated residents.
Held in Ringshall – one of the worst affected areas in the country – the meeting was arranged as part of Mrs Churchill’s campaign to ensure sufficient broadband access for constituents. The event brought together residents and councillors from across Mrs Churchill’s constituency, as well as Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council portfolio holder for broadband, and officers from the council’s broadband team. Currently, around 30% (12,790) of lines to premises – whether homes, businesses or both – across Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket are without access to sufficient broadband – 10 Mbps.
Overall, average broadband speeds across the entire constituency are 39% lower than the national average. Speaking after the meeting, Mrs Churchill said: “Some of the residents here today have connectivity so poor, they can barely conduct a simple email exchange and yet, will pay the same price, if not more, for their broadband as customers with good connectivity. “Whether conducting business or trying to access everyday online services, this is not good enough.
“Without action, these and other residents currently unable to access broadband are predicted to still be without sufficient connectivity by 2020. “It is really important for residents and businesses to see Openreach are doing more than just acknowledging the situation and are willing to reach out to affected areas. “These residents groups from villages including Old Newton, Gislingham and Borley Green are rightly frustrated by this situation and, as a result, have taken up this campaign in order to see changes made.
“I want to be able to work with Openreach, Suffolk County Council local residents and businesses to resolve this problem. That, I believe, is what it will take and this meeting must be a first step to making this happen.” Clive Selley, chief executive of Openreach, said: “Everyone at Openreach is determined to deliver decent broadband speeds to every home and business in Britain.
“We have come here today to listen to residents and we have committed to working with all concerned parties to help them get decent broadband.”