Charles County’s identity has shifted through the decades from a rural enclave to a bustling county of housing developments where new residents and families — and others with life-long ties to this region — are pursuing their dreams and helping shape Southern Maryland.
However, this alone will not ensure the county’s economic stability for the long term. Citizens and officials alike recognize the need for broader economic-development opportunities to serve the county’s needs. High taxes and residents who have to drive long distances to work have become a reality, but robust planning policies and establishing a stronger job base and commercial sector are key to addressing these concerns.
The HUB at La Plata is an innovative proposed mixed-use development for the northwest quadrant of Greater La Plata (near the College of Southern Maryland campus and the Hawthorne Country Club) that will combine housing and employment facilities. It can help this region grow jobs that are locally based, foster high-quality development, and integrate environmental stewardship close to where people can live, work, play and interact with others.
According to the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), of Charles County’s “resident workers” who commute, 52,952 or 77 percent travel to jobs outside the county. Furthermore, of states with the highest commute times, Maryland and New York have previously tied for the No. 1 slot, with a mean time of 32.3 minutes and Charles County currently has the second-highest commute time — 43.3 minutes — in the state.
“Quality of life is an important factor in America today because it helps determine where people decide to live and fulfill their life goals,” says Bill Murray, Project Manager of The HUB at La Plata. “People choose to move to, or stay in, Charles County for its beauty, housing and land costs, good schools and proximity to other areas, but many have to spend hours driving or getting to their jobs every day. Southern Maryland already has an established base of those who are employed by the federal government who could work in La Plata much more conveniently. Additionally, businesses and major Washington, D.C., metropolitan employers may find lower costs here for leasing properties.”
Maryland’s leaders understand that the state’s population, employment and traffic will continue to climb. Understanding variables such as commuting patterns, county trends, where people work, and the transportation grid can help local decision-makers and hone economic development.
But economists also have critical insight into how long commutes impact American workers.
Over the five-year period from 2013-2017, the U.S. Census Bureau (through its American Community Survey) estimated that 28.8 percent of Charles County residents commuted to work outside of Charles County. Of these commuters, the estimate of time traveling to work outside of the county was slightly higher for men (29 percent) and slightly lower for women (28.6 percent). The average commute time for all these workers was 43.3 minutes one way or 86.6 minutes (slightly less than 1.5 hours) round-trip.
Using the average weekly wage of $873 per worker in Charles County as of the second quarter of 2018, Dr. Dean D. Bellas of Urban Analytics, Inc. estimated that this commuting time was equivalent to $7,245.17 per worker in lost labor time annually.
With 52,952 residents of Charles County commuting to work outside of Charles County every day, this $7,245.17 per worker translated into $383.65 million annually in lost productivity to employers in the region.
“Reducing the average commuting time for Charles County residents by giving them the opportunity to work in either Charles County or the Town of La Plata (instead of having to commute outside of the county) would have a positive economic benefit on the local economy of the county and the Town,” said Dr. Bellas.
Mixed-use development is on the rise all over the United States because it has environmental, economic and land-management benefits. They include creating communities that encourage walkability, compact design, affordability, various housing choices, access to amenities, less dependence on vehicles, maximizing the advantages of location, attractive buildings and work-site spaces, and sustainability.
With the advent of connected communities and the changing nature of how people work, mixed-use walkable communities create neighborhoods that will attract employees who will want to live, raise a family, shop, and work in the same neighborhoods. In turn, this can attract more employers, including federal agencies, major corporations and companies looking to provide working spaces and job-sites in La Plata and Charles County, according to Murray.
There are four fiber-optic networks running through and/or adjacent to the land where The HUB is proposed.
Here are some additional MDOT data that The HUB team believes buttresses why Charles County will benefit by bringing good jobs here:
— The Southern Maryland region’s population is expected to grow from 361,153 in 2016 to 474,350, or 31.3 percent, by 2040.
— Charles County is forecasted to have a greater than 40 percent increase, which is above the state’s ranking, in Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) based on the Consolidated Long Range Plan (CLRP 2040 vs. CLRP 2012).
— There were 4.4 million Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) on state roads in Charles County in 2012 and that number is projected to increase to 6.7 million in 2040; there were 141,000 Vehicle Hours Traveled (VHT) on state roads in Charles County in 2012 and that number is projected to increase to 283,000 in 2040; and there were 511,000 Vehicle Trips on state roads in Charles County in 2012 and that number is projected to increase to 784,000 in 2040. Those 2012-2040 increases are 52 percent, 100 percent and 53 percent, respectively.
The HUB project — if approved by the Town of La Plata and the land where it will be built is annexed in — will help bring good jobs to Southern Maryland by building neighborhoods that are modeled on best practices and reflect good quality-of-life indicators, such as:
— respecting the area’s location, history and the charm of La Plata through traditional planning principles;
— creating tax-positive communities;
— providing varied housing choices;
— cultivating greener and healthier living;
— facilitating the extension of a downtown center and a multimodal and expanded transportation grid; and
— developing appealing spaces that can accommodate different commercial endeavors, large companies, federal jobs and alternative workplaces for those who telecommute.
Note: Urban Analytics, Inc., is located in Alexandria, Va.