By Alix Farr and Laura L. Thornton
EDMONSTON – Quiet, middle-class Edmonston, a diverse Prince George’s County community of roughly 1,300 people, unveiled a new green street that officials hope will become a model for environmentally friendly towns across the nation.
Mayor Adam Ortiz spoke to a group of locals and Maryland politicians in Tuesday’s dedication ceremony, about Decatur Street’s new features, which include energy-efficient streetlights, rain gardens, wider sidewalks and bike paths.
“All towns and cities have to replace their streets at some time — so why not do it in the most responsible and environmentally sustainable way?” Ortiz said.
The project has been supported not only by residents, but also by local politicians, because of the example that Edmonston sets for other towns.
“If this street is duplicated around our county, state and nation, we can solve our energy problems, (and) we can solve our environmental problems,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., at the ceremony.
“You’re doing it right here in Edmonston,” he said.
Also speaking at the ceremony were Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, and Rushern Baker, executive-elect of Prince George’s County.
The project, completed in two and a half years, cost $1.3 million, and was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Some of the primary new features are the rain gardens of native plants that line sections of the seven-block street.
The gardens’ shrubs and tall grasses filter contaminants out of stormwater before it seeps into the ground.
Before the rain gardens were planted, dirty stormwater flowed through street drains emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. During storms, water would flood the streets.
Now, the streets are clean and water-free, and the plants do most of the filtering work.
“This is the most important thing right here. These gardens — they’re low-tech, they’re affordable, and they’re completely sustainable,” Ortiz said.
“We wanted to show that there’s another way to build, there’s another way to prosper, that accepts full responsibility and does not pass problems downstream, and that it can be beautiful and livable.”
Above the gardens, energy-efficient street lights powered by clean wind energy illuminate Decatur Street after dark.
Together, these changes have made the community’s main street not only more environmentally friendly, but also more visually appealing and safer for pedestrians and bikers.
It looks “100 percent better,” said Charles Curry, 75, who has lived in Edmonston for 35 years. “The mayor has done a wonderful job.”
“It used to be the worst street in Maryland, with bumps and holes…it was just awful,” he added.
“Today, when it rains, (we) don’t have to worry about flooding,” said Stephanie Duarte, 12, a member of the Green Team, a group of residents who helped get the project completed.
“I’m so amazed to have a safe community with speed bumps, bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks,” Duarte said.
“Now my friends and I can play outside without any danger. My sister and I can safely go trick-or-treating each and every year.”