Planning a High-Density, Transit-Oriented Future for Waldorf, Maryland

May 14, 2012

When high-capacity transit comes to downtown Waldorf, Maryland -- as the Maryland Transit Administration has been discussing for several years -- local planners want the site to be ready to handle the new development that they hope will accompany it.

A 2010 study funded under the Transportation Planning Board's Transportation/ Land-Use Connections (TLC) program identified the key transportation infrastructure improvements that will be necessary to support high-density, transit-oriented development in the area and it recommended strategies for how Charles County, where Waldorf is located, might pay for such improvements.

An unincorporated community with a 2010 population just shy of 68,000, Waldorf was identified in the 2006 update to the Charles County Comprehensive Plan as a prime candidate for urban redevelopment. County planners have long had a policy of trying to concentrate new development in designated development districts as a way to preserve the more rural parts of the county. Downtown Waldorf is one such district.

In 2010, the County completed the "Waldorf Urban Design Study," or WUDS, which lays out an ambitious plan for the revitalization of downtown Waldorf along US Highway 301 just north of Leonardtown Road. Among the WUDS recommendations: new zoning to allow higher-density, mixed-use development; and, design guidelines to create consistency and quality in design for building architecture, streetscapes, site landscaping, and other physical elements.

The WUDS also outlined a conceptual transportation network to support the urban design strategy that includes attractive and functional streets that help to disperse rather than concentrate traffic volumes, and a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environment that puts the emphasis on people rather than automobiles.

The 2010 TLC study awarded to Charles County by the TPB -- the "Waldorf Urban Transportation Improvement Plan" -- took the conceptual framework laid out in the WUDS and identified the specific roadway, pedestrian, bicycle, and transit network improvements that would be needed to support the high-density development that WUDS recommended and to make Waldorf truly walkable. The study also identified the key projects most needed to attract developers and to catalyze development, how much those improvements might cost, and how the County might pay for them.

In all, the study found that the improvements needed to carry out all of the WUDS recommendations would cost nearly $75 million. However, the cost of a limited number of short-term, high-priority projects that the study said would be most needed to attract developers and advance the WUDS vision was found to be approximately $24.5 million. The priority improvements were focused on reconstruction and streetscaping of the three main existing roadways in the area -- Old Washington Road, Leonardtown Road, and Acton Lane.

The study noted the likelihood that the County would have to bear nearly all the costs of any project used as a catalyst and constructed in advance of substantial private sector redevelopment of the area. Given the short-term needs and the existing economic conditions at the time, the study recommended a mix of public and private sector financing solutions, including tax increment financing (TIF), a special tax assessment district, general obligation bonds, and public-private partnerships.

To date, the findings of the 2010 TLC study have enabled the County to make significant progress on its plans for redeveloping downtown Waldorf. The transportation improvements that were recommended in the study have been added to the County's capital program budget, the study has served as an example for studies of needed water, sewer, and utility upgrades in the area, and the Maryland Transit Administration's first steps in seeking federal approval for high-capacity transit to Waldorf was made stronger by the County's demonstrated commitment to planning and redevelopment.

The TPB's Transportation/Land-Use Connections program -- which has funded 56 similar studies around the Washington region since it began in 2007 -- has enabled Charles County to identify and prioritize needed transportation and land-use improvements in downtown Waldorf. These improvements will help better accommodate future growth while making the most of both the existing transportation infrastructure and the limited resources available to maintain and grow the transportation system.

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