BY SUSIE CURRIE — Three infrastructure improvements that have been languishing for years, if not decades, were back on the agenda at the Hyattsville City Council’s November 5 meeting. Mayor Marc Tartaro presented a detailed spreadsheet of timelines for them, showing how each could be completed by either December 2013 or May 2014.
The projects, all in the southern end of the city, address problems ranging from stormwater management to handicapped accessibility to crumbling roads and broken sidewalks. One area, the notoriously flood-prone “Soggy Bottom” neighborhood, needs all of these fixes. It’s a cul-de-square bordered by 40th Avenue and Crittenden, Banner and Buchanan streets. Many homes overlook the Northwest Branch bike trail or the woods by Magruder Park.
Drainage problems began in 1993, when the city’s Department of Public Works raised sidewalks to accommodate tree roots. But the new sidewalks were higher than residents’ yards, trapping rainwater that should have flowed onto the street – and trapping some residents who couldn’t open their front gates.
When water has nowhere to go, it may affect roads and sidewalks as well as front yards. “Water can do a lot of damage to pavement. When you see cracks or potholes, that means water hasn’t been draining,” said acting DPW director Julia McTague after the most recent community meeting about the situation, back in January. (Another is tentatively scheduled for November 19; check the city website for details.)
The deterioration is evident in Soggy Bottom, where growing potholes and crumbling sidewalks pose hazards to walkers and drivers alike. “Our neighborhood is certainly the ‘historic’district.’ Anyone traveling our streets would think they were on cobblestones,” quipped resident Sharon Payne. “Although, in all truthfulness, cobblestones have to be better.”
Some residents there are taking the new timeline with a shaker of salt.
“At this rate, we will be having this same discussion 20 years from now, with the same result,” said resident Scott Matirne. Over the years, “we have been placated, over-promised and repeatedly given what seems like arbitrary completion dates numerous times, only to be told that there is ‘just one more thing’ that needs to be done before we can move on to the next phase. How many more phases, revised timelines, taxpayer dollars and unfulfilled promises are we going to have to endure before something is actually done?”
Still, plans for that area are more concrete than they were a year ago, despite the city being without a full-time DPW director for most of that time. The five-year Capital Improvement Plan approved in April allotted $1.6 million for the upgrades in fiscal year 2013. And on October 8, the council authorized $25,411 for additional engineering services.
The mayor’s spreadsheet included specifics on two other projects that are part of the Melrose Neighborhood Streets Improvement Plan. Both were delayed by, among other things, last year’s disastrous seven-month storm drain replacement under Crittenden Street by Prince George’s County contractors.
The Melrose Access Trail, at least 10 years in the making, would revamp the neighborhood’s only link to the Northwest Branch Trail, now a steep, patched little stretch of road off Crittenden Street. County planners ─ who also designed the nearby Melrose Skate Park and improvements to the adjoining soccer field ─ have finished the drawings. The city is to build it, but at this writing, plans were not online. Final permits are expected in January, and the project is budgeted for fiscal year 2014, which begins in July. “The expectation is that we’ll finish by the end of 2013,” said Tartaro.
That’s also when the third piece of the plan is scheduled to finish. That one would upgrade the Crittenden Street/40th Place stretch from Rhode Island Avenue to Magruder Park by improving drainage, realigning the roadway and adding sidewalks. Tartaro said that the latest in a series of delays is due to extensive new state stormwater management requirements and design work on a retaining wall near the Emerson Street intersection.