Sunday, April 1, 2012

Status of discussions about Route 410 & Flower Avenue ownership & maintenance

This is a status update to say that discussions of ownership & maintenance of Route 410 and Flower Avenue (between Greenwood Avenue and Piney Branch Road) in Takoma Park are still not close to conclusion. The City of Takoma Park and the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) are the two parties. I'll recap background and the basic questions I have, but really there's no news.

The roads are state highways although the city owns major portions of Route 410 (Philadelphia and Ethan Allen Avenues) within its boundaries. Both Flower Avenue and portions of 410 need attention. The SHA had decided it will not maintain a road it doesn't own, even if a state highway, without a maintenance easement.

The city and the SHA have been working toward a Memorandum of Understanding. The MOU would transfer Flower Avenue ownership to the city, which would install a good sidewalk on the side that doesn't have one and take other steps, for instance relating to storm-water handling, to make Flower a "green street." The MOU would have the city grant a "perpetual maintenance easement" for 410 in the city to the SHA.

The draft MOU, presented by city staff and the city attorney to the council on February 21, 2012, cedes authority over utility-work permitting; signal, sign, and crosswalk decisions; and maintenance standards to the SHA. It does not contain assurances that the SHA would heed city comments and requests.

The city council, the city attorney, and staff met in closed session on March 19 to discuss the city's legal position and options. [The following sentence was altered, and the 3 sentences after it were added, on April 3.] Unfortunately, I'm not permitted to quote freely from that session. City Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite gave me permission to relay her view that requiring dual permitting for work along 410 is not feasible. That is, asking public utilities to apply for city work permits, beyond the permits that the SHA would require, would cause confusion. Further, it would not gain for the city the oversight authority we would like to have. The council is waiting for a written summary response from the city attorney of points discussed at the March 19 closed session. Further council discussions have not yet been scheduled.

At this point, I have four basic, exploratory questions, which I believe reflect concerns of Ward 1 and other Takoma Park residents:

- Is this an occasion where we should go the political route and ask state elected officials to ask the SHA to resurface and maintain Route 410, without an MOU, as the SHA had been doing for decades until recently?

The MOU would not cover 410. It would cover only transfer of ownership of Flower Avenue to the city, a payment for Flower Ave restoration, and transfer of ownership of Carroll Avenue between Garland Avenue to Flower Avenue to the state (which seems non-controversial).

- If we continue trying to settle the 410 issue via an MOU, would we be better off with, and would the SHA accept, a bare-bones MOU, one that a) transfers ownership of Flower Avenue to the city, b) transfers ownership of Carroll Avenue between Garland Avenue to Flower Avenue to the state, and c) grants the SHA a perpetual maintenance easement for 410 -- nothing else.

- If a bare-bones MOU wouldn't work, could language be included to assure SHA consideration of city comments and requests?

- MOU or not, could we not also seek SHA transfer of ownership, to the City of Takoma Park, of in-Takoma Park portions of Route 410 that the state owns?

There's no hard deadline here, but it would be great to start the Flower Avenue "green street" work soon and to get Philadelphia (from Park to Carroll) and Ethan Allen Avenues resurfaced, also to get city-SHA collaboration on Takoma Junction improvement underway.