Letter To The Editor
Updated: Nov 3
Ever since 1996, I always wondered why the short section of Rhode Island Avenue, just over the College Park city line at Paducah Street, becomes a country road from there up to Sunnyside where the sidewalks return on BOTH sides of the street. The College Park sidewalk, up to Paducah on the east side of the street, suddenly ends in a guard rail jungle and the more recent College Park bike lane grinds to a halt. I called the USDA Maintenance Department about this back then, since it is their property that borders on both sides of the R.I. street from Paducah up to Sunnyside, which is Federal land. They refused to consider any sidewalk continuation or even some extension of their pathway in the Sunnyside Neighborhood Park on Rhode Island. Instead, I was told to call the P.G. County Department
of Public Works since I was told it is their responsibility. Phone calls to P.G. Highway Maintenance Departments have gone unheeded since then. A few years later, I opened an office in the Sunnyside Building for our nonprofit institute and often bike to the office, even along the one-foot-side treacherous side of Rhode Island Ave. on what I now regard as USDA property. What I find the scariest is when driving home after dark, very often there are people walking next to the road wearing dark or black clothing, who are almost impossible to see until almost on top of them. The pedestrian traffic at all hours is a daily occurrence since there is a bus stop on Sunnyside, with many of those bus riders apparently walking south into College Park from there or walking north to the bus stop on these one-foot-wide pathways adjacent to 40-50 mph traffic.
In 2011 and onwards, I tried to work with Delegate Mary Lehman, as well as the State Highway Administration, to raise awareness about this inexplicably neglected portion of Rhode Island Avenue which I feel is a pedestrian and bicyclist hazardous danger zone. Repeated calls and emails to Mary, her Legislative Assistant Matt Dernoga, and Chief of Staff Brigette did nothing. In fact, Matt suggested in 2011 that “these improvements are difficult to achieve and rarely happen overnight…” In 2014, I actually tried to coerce some highway workers into adding sidewalks to their CURB installation project on Rhode Island to no avail. The curb they installed at the corner near my office has now made a lake formation take place in the street after every heavy rain, just south of Sunnyside on Rhode Island Avenue.
In 2018, Jasmine Smith at the State Highway Administration said they “will look into it.” Then in 2019, by chance I approached Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk at the College Park Post Office and subsequently sent her a complete collection of the correspondence regarding the Rhode Island issue. She instructed me to contact Councilman Thomas Dernoga which I did, who then referred me to his Chief of Staff Michelle Garcia, who also received my detailed emails with maps of the R. I. section desperately needing a makeover. Michelle promptly responded in September, 2019 calling it the “Valone Matter” with a promise that “The Councilmember will write to you directly.” Two years later in 2021, Councilman Fazlul Kabir emailed me that other residents had also interest in sidewalks on that section of Rhode Island. He also included “Mr. Martin Harris, the Acting Director of DPW&T, and Councilmember Dernoga” in the email. So, on December 17, 2021 Councilmember Thomas Dernoga really did email me about work he proposed in 2003. He added at the end that “I will advocate with the administration to prioritize what remains of phase 3 (Paducah to Route 1) in the upcoming capital budget program” (my emphasis). However, what struck me about this politically obfuscated jargon about a newly added proposal is that the short stretch of Rhode Island from Paducah to Sunnyside, has now expanded considerably so he seems to be adding a larger chunk to some “capital budget program” than is needed, which may add more delay. Surprisingly, a contradictory Proposed Capital Improvement Program & Budget released in 2021 (p. 230 attached) with its $11 million for Rhode Island only indicates that “Phase III will extend from Edgewood Road to MD 193” which is south of Beltsville and entirely in College Park.
Maybe Senator Jim Rosapepe will help install sidewalks and a bike lane on a little Beltsville country road hiding in plain sight.
Thomas Valone, PhD, PE
Integrity Research Institute