“The band [the UMD marching band] was here before playing the theme to ‘Jurassic Park,’ and I thought it was appropriate because it often felt like it took 165 million years to build.” – Michael Smith, city councilman who served on the Metro Watch committee, in the Diamondback on the occasion of the grand opening of the College Park Metro Station on December 13, 1993
Do you ride the Metro? Are you all too familiar with the terms track work, single-tracking, or delays on the Green Line? Are you dreading Metro’s year-long, system-wide maintenance, which began this month?
As residents of the District, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) lament delays while SafeTrack is underway, here’s a bit of the history of the College Park Metro station, our university’s connection to the Green Line of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The Metro was founded in 1967, and Metro broke ground on the Green Line in 1969 along 12th and G Street, NW. The College Park Station opened to the public decades later on Saturday, December 11, 1993 — 14 years after the projected opening date of 1979!
On April 19, 1971, The Diamondback reported that navigating from the WMATA office in downtown Washington, DC, to Prince George’s Plaza required four buses, took at least 90 minutes, and cost 95 cents. To get to the University Student Union (now the Stamp Student Union), members of the campus community spent another 32 cents on an additional 15-minute bus ride. The Diamondback welcomed the fact that by 1979, students could expect a 19-minute Metro ride into downtown.
The projected Metro route deliberately avoided campus. According to Cody Pfanstiehl, the Director of WMATA’s community services office, routing the Green Line near the university would require relocating College Park families. The line was designed to serve commuters who needed a station near residential services, although a supplementary shuttle serving campus would be established. Trains would arrive every 4 to 8 minutes.
This whole project is a political miracle and political necessity … none of the local governments could do this on their own and somehow they have all gotten together and agreed. – Cody Pfanstiehl in The Diamondback
Pfanstiehl was correct in one regard — nothing short of “political miracle” would allow the College Park Station to open on schedule. The Washington Post reported the first sign of delay on January 28, 1972, noting that while residents of Prince George’s County theoretically supported WMATA’s plan to extend the Green Line as far as Greenbelt, Maryland, construction of the College Park Station was already months behind schedule due to controversies surrounding the planned route of the line on an I-95 median.
By 1976, College Park residents and Mayor St. Clair (Skeeter) Reeves vehemently opposed the proposed Metro station. On November 18, 1976, the Washington Post detailed their concerns voiced at a public meeting earlier that week. Residents argued that the planned route could dislocate homes and businesses, draw more traffic, and and increase local taxes. The plans for a 500-car parking lot, 12 kiss-and-ride spots, and a Calvert Road overpass would impact six homes and potentially some local businesses. In 1977, according to the Washington Post‘s report on August 16, 1979, 70% of College Park residents opposed the Metro line through College Park in an advisory referendum.
The Prince George’s County Council did not formally adopt the recommendation of the completion of the Green Line to Greenbelt until April 18, 1978, with a final motion calling for the deletion, redesign, or relocation of the College Park Station. The Washington Post claimed the next day that Maryland residents along the Green Line, particularly near the proposed College Park Station, raised the most opposition to the Green Line route out of the entire planned construction in Maryland. One year later, the College Park City Council backed the Metro stop. They grudgingly conceded that if WMATA planned to route the Green Line through College Park regardless, the city should reap the benefits. Even with the council’s support, locals continued to raise concerns about the planned location of the Metro station. In 1988, College Park Airport pilots and other supporters asked a federal judge to block the construction of the station over concerns about safely landing aircraft and maintaining the historical integrity of the longest continuously operating airport in the world.
The Diamondback was not immune to engaging in (sometimes humorous) debate over the off-campus Metro station. On April Fool’s Day, 1993, just months before the station finally opened, “Mike Brr Man” announced that the Student Union would become the Metro’s next stop in College Park. Although this “shocked many area residents,” the station would be fully operational by September 1994 and would include a 7-story parking garage that would generate no revenue for the city council. He claimed that Metro cited its “inability to work with the city council” in relocating its proposed Metro stop, acknowledging the years of debate over the location of the station.
The real station opened on December 13, 1993, after almost 20 years of planning and 6 years of construction. Nearly 200 people attended the ribbon-cutting, including UMD President William Kirwan. In the Diamondback, Kirwan called attention to the “symbolic importance in the line’s opening.” Metro gave free rides all day to new riders. Despite the fanfare, College Park commuters still had years to wait before the completion of the direct line to downtown Washington. The entire Green Line was not scheduled for completion until 1999. Meanwhile, between 1994 and 1995, Shuttle-UM gradually improved its route between campus and the new Metro station, and this route is a critical service for faculty, staff, students, and visitors to campus today. Ironically, some students had claimed on the day the station opened that they didn’t feel it was necessary for the campus to run any shuttles to the station — one even claimed “Most people could probably use the exercise.”
Do you have any memories of the drawn-out construction of College Park Metro? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
The Diamondback is the university’s primary student newspaper, and its coverage of milestones such as the construction of the College Park Metro Station provides a unique student perspective on the university’s history. Thanks to generous donations and a successful Launch UMD campaign, the University Archives is digitizing the entire run of the newspaper, which is currently available on microfilm. This post is the tenth in a series by graduate student assistant Jen Wachtel, who is collecting data for the Diamondback Digitization Project. Check out the Twitter hashtag #digiDBK or the DigiDBK tag on the Terrapin Tales blog for previous posts, and look for new posts monthly during the summer session.