Van Hollen to Park Service: Your Road Plan Is ‘Unacceptable’

    U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is demanding that the National Park Service speed up its timetable for fixing portions of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that have become nearly unusable.

    In a letter to National Park Service Acting Director Dan Smith, Van Hollen notes that the agency currently plans to do extensive repair on the road in late summer, a timetable he called “unacceptable.”

    “It is an unsafe situation that needs to be remedied immediately through expedited action by the National Park Service and its federal partners,” he wrote in a Friday letter.

    On March 1, the Park Service reduced the speed limit on the southbound lanes of the parkway between MD Routes 197 and 32 to 40 miles an hour due to thousands of potholes and ruts that have appeared in recent weeks.

    “Lowering the speed limit is not an adequate substitute for repair,” Van Hollen wrote, “and it will not ensure the safety of Maryland commuters and other vehicles on this heavily traveled highway.”

    Earlier this month a spokeswoman for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) called the road’s deterioration “dangerous” and “unacceptable.”

    John Townsend II, director of government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the parkway “looks like a highway in a poverty-stricken country, a country that doesn’t have enough resources to take care of itself.”

    Broken down cars are a frequent site along the parkway, Townsend said, a sentiment echoed by Van Hollen.

    “My constituents have reported that the current road conditions have caused unnecessary congestion, crashes, and debris,” he wrote, concluding his letter by writing, “In order to protect the public safety it is essential that you work with the Federal Highway Administration to accelerate this schedule. I look forward to your response. If there are any reasons why you cannot start these repairs immediately, please let me know what they are so that we can work together to address them.”

    While the park service has drawn sharp criticism for its failure to maintain the parkway, Townsend said the primary blame lies with Congress, which has failed to provide the agency with the funding it needs.

    Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) said last week that the agency would need nearly $12 billion to clear the current maintenance backlog for roads and other needs.

    Other roads under park service control — including the George Washington Parkway and the Clara Barton Parkway — are also in dire shape, AAA said.

    A park service spokesman told WTOP the agency receives approximately half of the funding it needs from Congress each year.

    A report released late last year concluded that tolls of between 4 and 16 cents a mile on some heavily-used parkways under park service control would generate tens of millions of dollars a year.

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    Bruce DePuyt
    Bruce DePuyt spent more than two decades on local television, including 14 years as host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the D.C. metro region. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County, as well as a reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. Bruce also is the host of the weekly The Bruce DePuyt Podcast.