Budget and Takoma Junction Traffic Process
From Suzanne Ludlow, City Manager of Takoma Park
Dear Residents of Takoma Park,
At last Wednesday’s City Council meeting, both the Proposed Budget and the draft site plan for the City’s project in Takoma Junction were presented. It is worth it to watch the recorded Council meeting to see these presentations. Over the next six weeks, the Council and public will be learning about and commenting on the proposals. The Council will take final action on the Budget in May; the complete review process for the Takoma Junction project will take much longer, but this is a time of Council and community focus on the draft site plan. (For more information on the process, see Mayor’s Blog.)
An Open House on both the Proposed Budget and the Takoma Junction Project will be held tomorrow, Saturday, April 7, from 2 to 5 pm in the Community Center. Please come! Our Recreation Department will have activities for children during that time so that you are able to come, learn and share your thoughts.
Preparing a proposed budget is the most important duty of the City Manager. For more details, please read my Transmittal Letter in the Proposed Budget document or view Wednesday’s presentation. We are at an exciting – but challenging – point in the history of our City. The Council has clear Priorities and high expectations for the direction for Takoma Park and we are organizing ourselves to get this done in a fiscally responsible way. Your comments are important as the Council considers the Proposed Budget and determines what changes to make which will result in a Final Budget that best meets their goals.
The proposal to redevelop the City-owned vacant asphalt lot on Carroll Avenue in Takoma Junction is taking shape. The plans presented on Wednesday are truly exciting and are appropriately sized for a historic neighborhood commercial area.
Takoma Junction Traffic
A major issue is a pre-existing one: the poor configuration of the intersection of Ethan Allen Avenue (MD 410) and Carroll Avenue (MD 195), and the resulting traffic (most of it passing through from outside Takoma Park) and pedestrian-safety issues in the Junction area. For years, City leaders have advocated for improvements to the intersection. In response, Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) has made some band-aid pedestrian safety improvements, but not addressed the underlying issues with the intersection’s configuration.
Most development projects like ours at Takoma Junction are required to do a traffic study. A typical study looks at the number of additional vehicular trips that would be generated by the development and evaluates options to address traffic and safety impacts. The City’s development partner for this project, Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), hired a traffic consultant firm to do traffic counts and do the assessment required by Montgomery County for the project.
The NDC traffic analysis is not yet complete but we have asked NDC to share traffic counts and other elements that are completed or nearly completed. (Completing the analysis was slowed by some unexpected delays in getting information from SHA as part of the work done to date.) As we get the elements, we will post them on the Takoma Junction Project Page. We will post them to be as transparent as possible, but please recognize that they are not complete and more updates will be provided until they are marked as “final.”
Because the City knew about the pre-existing problems with traffic in the Takoma Junction area, the City is funding an independent traffic study that overlaps with the NDC study but also looks at a larger area of traffic issues. The traffic counts that our consultant has done are completed, but their analysis is also not yet done. Again, we will be posting the information as we can, noting that it is not complete and will be updated.
Many residents have expressed concern that the City Council may vote on a site plan for the Takoma Junction development project without having complete traffic information. The Council will not do that. The Council’s vote on the site plan is marked as “tentative” on its Rolling Agenda to let the public know of the earliest date on which the Council could vote on the plan. However, traffic impact, pedestrian safety and circulation on and off of the site are key elements to a site plan. The Council will not vote until it has studied the issues, heard from the public, and feels comfortable that it has adequate information for a vote.
State and County Roles and Responsibilities
As I have said from the beginning about the proposed Takoma Junction development project, having a real project in the development review process may be the only way to have the Maryland State Highway Administration do what is needed to address the Takoma Junction intersection.
As the County reviews development traffic studies, they consider location, distance to transit facilities and the nature of the development. Takoma Park has long advocated that Montgomery County should consider the distance to the Takoma Metro in reviewing traffic studies and parking requirements for development applications even though the Metro station is outside of Montgomery County. The County does look at existing traffic conditions near a development site as part of its development review process.
Part of the traffic study that is underway by the City’s traffic consultant is a review of options for the Takoma Junction intersection. We have been waiting to see the traffic analysis of several possible configurations and, if any are technically feasible, these options will be shared for consideration by the public and by the State Highway Administration.
The Next Few Weeks
As the public looks at the Takoma Junction plans over the next few weeks, I ask that you let us know what you think about the design of the building, public space, and the sustainability features. As soon as we have the traffic studies and recommendations, we will share them with the public and take the time we need to consider those. Again, the Council will not vote on the proposed site plan until it feels it has adequate information, including traffic information.
Back to the FY 19 Proposed Budget. A review of the Proposed Budget and the Council’s Priorities will show that the Takoma Junction Project is just one of many major projects that staff will be working on in the coming year under the Priority of Community Development for an Improved and Equitable Quality of Life. I have wonderful staff, but the workload is heavy.
Besides advancing economic development initiatives that help build long-lasting fiscal health while crafting and maintaining the special character and diversity of Takoma Park, our planners have the following projects to work on or respond to: Washington Adventist Hospital leaving; protecting businesses during Purple Line construction; Takoma Junction redevelopment; Montgomery College development; future plans for the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center; Washington McLaughlin site; MCPS school facility needs; Open Space Plan; bus rapid transit and bikeway planning; advancing redevelopment along New Hampshire Avenue, including expanding affordable housing options; and reviewing development applications, large and small.
We also have major projects such as renovation and expansion of the Takoma Park Library, the Ethan Allen Gateway street project and the Flower Avenue Green Street project. And, we have Community Policing efforts and our cutting edge work on environmental sustainability. In all, the FY 19 Proposed Budget advances the Council’s Priorities for a wonderful and fiscally-conscious Takoma Park. The Councilmembers and I welcome your thoughts on the Proposed Budget.