The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a request to update the 1997 Calvert County Transportation Plan on Tuesday.
The commissioners directed staff to analyze the cost to finance the effort through the development of a detailed scope of work. Staff will return later with a funding request.
“This board is fully supportive of updating the plan and looking forward to a way to get it completed soon, and when it’s done, it will put to rest some of the worries about additional targeted and costly traffic studies that is surrounding what’s going on with Armory Square,” Commissioners’ President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said.
Director of Planning and Zoning Mark Willis, who submitted the request for a multi-modal transportation plan to address vehicle, transit, bicycle and pedestrian modes, said the outdated plan was established five department directors ago.
“Twenty-one years between plans — it should not have ever taken that long,” Commissioners’ Vice President Tom Hejl (R) said. “One of those five or four directors before you should have had the same foresight that you’ve had in developing the processes that you are moving forward with.”
In a May 7 memo to the commissioners, Willis indicated the updated transportation plan is likely to cover an entire county, while a traffic study may look at a single intersection or an entire town center, to clear up any confusion between the two efforts.
Willis initially presented the request to update the two-decade-old transportation plan to the Calvert County Planning Commission in April. The planning board approved Willis’s request and directed staff to draft correspondence to the county commissioners seeking funding to bring the transportation plan up to date.
The move forward somewhat aligns with the planning commission’s Jan. 10 decision to elevate the need for more discussion on an intermodal plan and to give consideration to requiring a transportation study prior to adopting the comprehensive plan.
The discussion was to be elevated to a joint meeting between both boards on Feb. 6, but there was very little dialogue on the need for or timing of a study or plan to assess the impact of updated land use patterns on traffic during the February work session.
“We keep going back and the argument may be is it the chicken or the egg,” Willis said, referring to whether to update the transportation plan before the comprehensive plan is adopted. “The comprehensive plan is a vision — a 20-year-long vision. The transportation plan is a vision. It’s things that we believe that we want to accomplish, but how can you accomplish a transportation plan or a vision without even knowing where the comprehensive plan is taking you?”
Willis advocated for adopting the comprehensive plan first and said once the transportation plan is adopted, it will become a main tool for updating the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance.
“The zoning ordinance is what actually enforces the comprehensive plan’s vision,” Willis said, adding that the zoning ordinance should be completed in 18 months to two years.
Willis said once all three documents are complete, they can be used to update all seven of the town center master plans.
Slaughenhoupt said some people have misinformed citizens that the county needs a traffic analysis before the comprehensive plan is done.
“That is totally inaccurate and wrong. Those self-proclaimed experts know better and are obviously pushing an agenda,” Slaughenhoupt said, noting that Willis’s recommendation is the right approach.
Slaughenhoupt said he personally supports the need to update the transportation plan, but does not feel pressured to do so, contrary to reports, and asserts the “self-proclaimed experts,” who used to be in a position to update the plan as former members of county planning staff, were “obviously silent then.”
The Calvert Recorder reached out to former county planning and zoning director Greg Bowen for comment regarding Slaughenhoupt’s remarks.
Bowen said the 1997 transportation plan informed the county commissioners’ decision when they were down-zoning, reducing the number of houses allowed in a zoning category, in 1999 and 2002. Bowen said in 2008, the county participated in a regional transportation plan that was used to inform the 2010 comprehensive plan.
“The transportation planning has informed the decision of the board of county commissioners for the last several comprehensive plans that were completed,” Bowen said. “If the new comprehensive plan does not propose expansion of the town centers or zoning in general, then I could understand why the transportation plan would not be as critical to be completed before the comprehensive plan.”