BY HUGH TURLEY — Built in 1933, Maryland Route 500 has served motorists traveling from the District line, where Michigan Avenue becomes Queens Chapel Road, through Chillum, Hyattsville and University Park. The road ends at the intersection of East-West Highway (Maryland Route 410) and Adelphi Road. It picks up again only a few yards away from the apparent dead end, behind a landscaped buffer in University Park, but to get there from Adelphi requires several turns in a residential neighborhood.

Drivers then can take Queens Chapel straight to Route 1, but not many do. Unless you’ve lived here for more than 25 years, you may not remember that once, all drivers could do that; the road used to continue, unbroken, from East-West Highway to Route 1. That section of the state highway was closed in 1988 during construction of the Metro Green Line, when a tunnel between the Prince George’s Plaza and College Park stations was built under the road.

Since that was the reason given for turning part of a highway into a neighborhood street, most drivers thought it would only be a temporary inconvenience. But some people had other plans.

With the road no longer a highway, ownership of it was transferred from the State Highway Administration to the Town of University Park. That meant that debate on the street’s future was limited to town residents. Plans to permanently close the road divided the community of University Park.

The closure of the road brought tranquility to some residents who (understandably) wanted the section of the highway permanently closed.  A few said that it would increase their property values.

But some said the closure would negatively impact residential streets with traffic.  Other residents objected to the traffic congestion the closure caused on Adelphi Road, East-West Highway and Route 1.

Parris Glendening, then county executive and later Maryland’s governor, signed residents’ petition to reopen the road. When citizens, even leading citizens, oppose the plans of their government, a study is usually ordered at taxpayer expense. In 1991, the town commissioned a study of the impact of the closure on the town, without concern for commuters or surrounding communities.

When the study recommended keeping the road closed, University Park resident Eric Bubek was quoted in news reports, “When you eliminate [Queens Chapel] you will spend the rest of the future trying to make up for the loss of a good road.”  He was right. University Park and the affected communities nearby ordered more traffic studies, installed speed bumps and barriers, and limited access to more roads.  At the intersection of Route 1 and East-West Highway, turn lanes were expanded and traffic lights adjusted, but nothing solves the traffic mess.

In 1993, University Park citizens petitioned for a referendum that ended the battle with a 736 to 495 vote to keep the road closed. Some residents continued the fight to reopen the road in 1995, putting up more than 200 “Open Queens Chapel” yard signs. They were mostly only visible to commuters navigating around the town.  The road remains closed.

Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky, a University Park resident, was asked recently about reopening the road.

“I think we should make every effort to minimize the potential cut-through traffic [and] opening Queens Chapel would only exacerbate that situation,” he said. “The people spoke – and there was support for the closing – when it was decided to keep it closed 20 years ago.”

But people in surrounding communities had no voice in the decision. Longtime Hyattsville resident Nelson Minnich vehemently opposed the closure 25 years ago. Today, he says that “it’s about time the highway reopen. … It was an important route and there were plans to widen it.  It was a logical route, just look at a map.”

Highways are built to serve society as a whole. Closing part of a highway for the good of a few is hurtful to our communities.  The gridlock caused by the closure of Queens Chapel Road still burdens the masses daily.