By Sen. Roy Dyson

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If it had not been for the death of Princess Di, people I've talked to recently would have had only one thing on their mind: traffic. I'm in a good position to see the change in the last month, with my home and office and my family's place of business overlooking the ever-increasingly-clogged Route 5 in Great Mills. But the story is being played out just about everywhere along the commuting path in Calvert and St. Mary's counties to and from the expanding Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

There used to be "Roads Less Traveled" in Southern Maryland. Now it's hard to find one. "Traffic gridlocks Pax commuters" was the headline in the Tester newspaper. People are getting innovative. As one road reaches gridlock they search out alternatives. Some people are heading south on Route 235, cutting across Hermanville Road or Park Hall Road and coming back up Route 5 in an effort to avoid sitting on the Route 235 parking lot. Hence there's a Route 5 gridlock during certain hours. The gravity of the problem depends on your point of view. I've talked to some of former Crystal City people who have moved to Southern Maryland. Some say their commute is still less than they faced up there. They aren't exactly happy because they thought it would be better. But at least they are conditioned to accept it.

I don't know how those people who are commuting all the way up the road are coping with it after standing on Route 235 waiting to pick up a decent head of steam for the final stretch. I suspect there's no real point in which they can make up for lost time. I also suspect many of them will be looking for homes closer to work very soon. Where before we had commutes in one direction, now it appears the traffic is heavy in both directions on Routes 5 and 2/4. Commuters are waiving at each other as they pass in opposite directions. Things are sure changing around here.

The people who are really, really complaining are the folks who have lived here for a while. Change is tough for many people to accept. And this is really a big change. I will reiterate what I said in an earlier column about the absolute need for everyone to readjust their driving habits. They need to switch from a rural mind set to an urban way of doing things.

I'm afraid up to this point all I've done is state the obvious. What's to be done about it? I met recently with the State Highway Administration District Engineer Paul Armstrong. Paul has impressed me with his willingness to listen and desire to get things done. I am concerned, and this is not his fault, about the pace (or lack of it) of right-of-way acquisition along the Route 235 project corridor. I am not convinced we are doing everything we can to make sure that Route 235 is done as fast as humanly possible. I know that the state highway folks, at the request of the commissioners, are looking at some quick fix options along Route 235 to at least temporarily help the situation. And I have made some suggestions for Route 5 in Great Mills. I support whatever can be done easily and safely to help the situation until the more permanent solutions can be accomplished.

Of course the widening of Route 235 is necessary and long overdue. But there are other projects that also need to be accelerated, including Chancellor's Run Road in St. Mary's and the Route 765 extension in Calvert County.

I have read recently the suggestion that folks peeved about traffic should call state officials, such as myself, to complain, because it's all the state's fault. Keep in mind it's only been a few years since we learned about the base consolidation, and even a shorter time frame when those moves were assured to survive court challenges. Keep in mind also that your local delegation has been clamoring for the last three years to get Route 235 accelerated. And it was accelerated. But there are other parts to the equation, including FDR Boulevard. The St. Mary's County Commissioners have had that road in their transportation plan for more than a decade. There were opportunities to secure rights of way from developers. There was plenty of time to get that road built. Yet there was disagreement about whether or not it should be built. Now when we really could use it during the construction of Route 235, it looks like FDR is still very far away from reality. One Calvert County resident has suggested to me that we seriously consider an overpass at the Route 4 and 235 intersection. Traffic from Calvert County has been backing up in the morning all the way over the bridge.

Sure we can tweak and adjust the situation. Work hours can be staggered. Car and van pools and bus routes can be established. Yes, we can improve the existing roads and traffic flow. But with all of that, it will never be the same. The Navy expansion is the goose that laid the golden egg. Let's not forget that. Our community was in the economic position of growing or expiring. We chose to grow. That is good, or at least it's better than the alternative. It's something to think about as we all sit in traffic.

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