Transportation is hot topic at District 21 town hall in Laurel

Members of Maryland's District 21 delegation presented a report of highlights from this year's legislative session and listened to community members' concerns during a town hall meeting in Laurel on Monday, July 8.

State Sen. Jim Rosapepe, and Dels. Barbara Frush and Joseline Peña-Melnyk, all Democrats, took turns highlighting newly passed bills to the nearly two-dozen community members who gathered for the meeting at the Laurel American Legion on Main Street. Rosapepe and Peña-Melnyk wore green shirts with their names emblazoned on the front.

The fourth delegation member, Del. Ben Barnes, was not present.

A major issue discussed at the meeting was improving transportation throughout the region. Rosapepe pointed out that Washington now has the worst traffic in the country, and Baltimore comes in at No. 5.

"So if you live in Laurel, halfway between Baltimore and Washington, you know you've got a lot of traffic," he said, citing population growth and lack of a major transportation investment package since 1992 as reasons for the congestion.

This session saw new transportation funding passed, and Rosapepe outlined some planned transportation projects. The MARC Camden line, which has a stop in Laurel right next to the American Legion, will increase weekday service by two trains a day and will add more double-decker train cars in order to accommodate a growing number of commuters. There are currently no plans for weekend service on the Camden line, Rosapepe said.

Other uses for the transportation money include station improvements, upkeep of roads and bridges, and construction of the Purple Line, a light rail addition to the Metro system that would connect Bethesda and New Carrollton.

Some meeting attendees complained of bus service in the area, which they consider to be lacking. Sandie Callis, who lives on Main Street, said she was disappointed with transportation for seniors.

"Where is the transportation for seniors to get to these meetings?" she asked.

"That's exactly why we increased this package, because we want to increase service," Rosapepe assured her.

Rosapepe also touted progress on Towne Centre Laurel, which will soon begin construction at the site of the torn-down Laurel Mall.

He noted a compromise between local church groups and the Prince George's Liquor Board that would in some cases allow the board to waive a rule prohibiting businesses located within 500 feet of a church from having a liquor license. He said making liquor licenses available would attract "high-quality restaurants" to the area.

Frush, who sits on the board of Dimensions Healthcare System — which oversees Prince George's Hospital Center, Laurel Regional Hospital, Bowie Health Campus and Glenridge Medical Center — announced a partnership with the University of Maryland system to open a "world-class" hospital that would serve Prince George's County and parts of southern Maryland.

"We will have a hospital system that we are proud of," Frush said. "We won't have to go to Baltimore, D.C. — we'll go local in Prince George's County." She said that after the new hospital is built, Laurel Regional and Bowie Health Campus will remain open; although, Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly will likely close.

Peña-Melnyk, a member of the House's Health Committee, highlighted the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, a program that helps Marylanders compare private insurance companies' rates. She said there will be an event in Laurel in October to help residents figure out how they can benefit from the program, and that the location and time will be announced at a later date.

After the presentation, the delegation members opened up the meeting for questions.

Six residents of Selborne House, an apartment community for senior citizens on Main Street, leveled several complaints about the residence, including the lowering of the age requirement for from 62 to 55 and the recent opening of Hope House, a substance abuse treatment center, next door at the site of the former Reality House.

Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, who attended the meeting, said the city cannot make direct changes since it doesn't own Selborne House, although he did note that they had sent inspectors to the apartment complex "numerous times." Peña-Melnyk and Moe offered to sit down with Selborne residents and the apartment's management to iron out their issues.

Desiree Marshall, president of the Arbory Condominium Association, said she came to the meeting to stay up-to-date on what's going on in the community.

"I want to try to build a relationship (with the delegation) and keep abreast of what's going on," she said.

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