Shifting LEGO blocks around a large map of Burtonsville, local residents, businessowners, and community leaders met last night to evaluate highway improvements such as medians, turn lanes, and traffic lights along Old Columbia Pike (MD 198).
This design charrette on January 17 at Burtonsville Elementary School was the second event hosted by The Coalition to Fix MD 198, a group I and a few other community leaders established in December 2016 to advocate for safety improvements on MD 198 in Spencerville and Burtonsville.
Lots of talk, but little action
My interest in advocating for change came when MD 198 was completely shut down due to a fatal accident in August of last year. However, complaints about congestion, speeding, unsafe conditions, poor road design, and car crashes have been a common topic of conversation on the Burtonsville community Facebook page for several years.
What seemed odd to me however, was that despite the collective concern about the street’s serious safety deficiencies, the community had done little to bring these concerns to the attention of the responsible agency, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA). Many people were unaware that the county is not responsible for MD 198.
That’s when I realized there was a huge communication gap between the decision-makers and the community and decided to do something about it, and fortunately now is a good time to get started.
A path forward
SHA is currently in the midst of finding ways to make the road safer as part of their MD 28/MD 198 Corridor Improvement Study. The study began in 2000, was delayed in 2009 due to the recession, and resumed in 2014. Although this phase of the project is planned to be completed this year, detailed design and construction will likely not occur in the next few years unless the state allocates money to this project.
SHA does hold public hearings and the project managers are actually very good at accepting invitations to speak at community meetings (I’ve had them come two times to my neighborhood). However, their presentations and workshops tend to be dry and slow-paced, which is why the The Coalition to Fix MD 198 has begun hosting fun, exciting meetings that engage the community, foster dialogue, and are designed to be highly interactive and participatory.
Props were used to help people communicate ideas. They also made the event very memorable.
Our group will continue to host meetings in Burtonsville to keep people informed over the next few weeks.
More about The Coalition to Fix MD 198
The purpose of our group is to engage all stakeholders in the community (businesses, residents, churches, schools, etc.) to develop a consensus on how we want to see MD 198 improved. We then plan to take our locally-preferred alternative to the SHA and our county/state elected officials to persuade them through petitions and public testimony to make this project happen. Our vision is:
“To make MD 198 a safe place for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and businesses to commute, live, visit, and work.”