ANNAPOLIS – A road planned to connect the University of Maryland’s College Park campus with Interstate 95 is drawing fire from neighbors who say it will interfere with land vital to research and inadequately addresses the area’s traffic concerns.
The College Park City Council said the plan for the “UM Connector” is unacceptable because it will discourage the use of mass transit and will cut into land used by the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, located on Route 1.
Officials have speculated the road would go through the 320-acre South Farm of the BARC, which lies between the Beltway and the neighborhood of College Park Woods. Losing any part of that land represents an “intolerable loss,” according to the council’s resolution.
Turf research, environmental studies and preserving resources for the National Arboretum all take place on the South Farm, said Phyllis Johnson, BARC director. Building a road that disrupts even some of the land will have a negative impact on research programs, she said.
The Maryland Turfgrass Council, a non-profit association that supports research and education at the South Farm, will also be jeopardized if a road is built on the land, said Turfgrass president David Cammarota.
Purchasing right-of-way on the South Farm would require congressional approval because it is owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Johnson.
However, Sen. John Giannetti, D-Prince George’s, said road opponents should wait for a preliminary study’s completion before bashing the idea, although even he said he is not in favor of building a road at the expense of losing the BARC.
“How can we make any good decisions until we see how much it will cost and the impact?” said Giannetti.
The exact alignment of the road is underdetermined, so there’s no way to tell how much land will be affected by it, said David Buck, SHA spokesman. Even getting to a study stage is dependent on a report being conducted by RESOLVE, a Washington-based dispute resolution organization, he said.
But building the road is absolutely necessary, said Giannetti, so all areas of the state have better access to the university and gridlock during sporting and other events is relieved.
“It’s something long overdue,” he said.
The road has the potential to relieve Route 1 of 11,000 cars daily and limit traffic on campus, said John Porcari, University of Maryland vice president for administrative affairs.
But, some say building another road will not fix traffic problems in the College Park area and it actually goes against the school’s Facilities Master Plan, which calls for reducing the number of automobiles on campus. Instead, the school needs to encourage alternate forms of transportation as other schools have done, said Joseline Pena-Melnyk, College Park councilwoman.
Montgomery County Community College charges students $2 per credit for monthly bus passes with unlimited use of the Ride On bus service. The University of North Carolina will not issue parking permits to students living within a certain distance of the campus.
Building the road will also discourage people from going into the City of College Park, she said.
“This is not a connector, this is a disconnector,” said Pena-Melnyk.
The university does provide students with transportation alternatives and incentives for leaving cars at home, its spokesmen said.
The school last month announced grants to build two pedestrian bridges over the Paint Branch stream, giving direct access to the campus from Route 1.
The school also encourages the use of shuttle buses for internal circulation around campus and those who bike to school can use shower facilities in the campus recreation center for free, said Porcari. The University is equally supportive of the Purple Line, improvements to Route 1, Shuttle UM and the Metro Bus, he said.
“The connector road is one component of a comprehensive and balanced transportation network,” said Porcari.
The money for this – the third – study of the road should be used to explore other options, said Johnson.
“What we need is somebody to take a higher-level view of all the options which might include things besides roads,” said Johnson.
While understanding that position, Giannetti said there is widespread support for the road from the community.
“It’s a matter of life or death,” said Sam Bronstein, former president of the North College Park Citizen’s Association.
Driving on Route 1 has “been a nightmare and it’s getting worse,” said Joan Carol Poor, a North College Park resident since 1984. There are not too many alternatives to building a connector road, she said.
“The bottom line is,” said Poor, “there has to be something done.”
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