To revitalize the area, the College Park City-University Partnership and the College Park City Council are focusing on making Route 1 more appealing to residents and visitors.
One possible solution is undergrounding utilities along Route 1, which has been a long-term goal and would “add to the streetscape,” City Manager Scott Somers said.
After the partnership’s most recent board meeting March 16, the council voted March 22 to spend no more than $6,000 of city funds and spend a maximum of 50 hours on preparing and submitting an application for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant through the State Highway Administration.
This grant could give the city $11 million to $14 million to help underground utilities along Route 1 between College Avenue and Greenbelt Road. The application deadline is April 29.
“It would be transformative, and it’s not just about making Route 1 look nice,” District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich said. “The value of undergrounding is not just aesthetics — it helps to support economic revitalization and commercial areas that have succeeded.”
In 2015, the council proposed undergrounding utilities to the SHA, which said it would not fund the project. On Aug. 2, the SHA told the council it would move forward with the Route 1 redesign, but utility lines would remain suspended.
“We asked if we could do simultaneous undergrounding and aerial relocation, and they didn’t agree,” District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir said. “We sent a letter of disappointment … [and] I thought the undergrounding was kind of dead.”
But even without the SHA taking the lead on the application, the council could complete it by the deadline with other outside help, said Eric Olson, the partnership’s executive director.
Olson has spoken to various consultants who specialize in similar applications, he said. One consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, said the grant application would cost between $45,000 and $50,000, but another firm cited a lower cost, Olson said.
With this firm, the city agreed to pay up to $6,000 and the partnership agreed to fund up to $25,000 for the application, Olson said. He added it is important to take advantage of the opportunity to apply for the grant this year, as it may not be an option in the future.
“This is an opportunity to at least compete — try to compete — for funding,” Olson said. “This is not a sure thing, we recognize that, but I do believe that this is our … best chance to try to get funding. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The partnership’s chairman, Sen. James Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), said the council’s biggest concern is competition for getting the grant. The administration normally awards only one or two grants per grant round, according to the agenda item.
“We have a shot at it,” Stullich said. “I recognize that there is uncertainty in this, as there always is in applying for grants. But somebody’s got to win those grants. It may as well be us.”
While the short time frame to complete the application caused some concern, Somers stressed its importance for the city.
“We know what we’re getting ourselves into,” Somers said. “It’s an opportunity for investment. It’s the last roll of the dice to see if this is a possibility, and once this ship sails, it sails.”