County Council Takes First Step to Kill M83, Sort of, But Not Really
The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved that something should be done, but nobody really knows exactly what that something will look like but it will provide a path forward.
The something is a resolution. A resolution which will come from members of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development, or PHED, Committee. The resolution will convey the County Council’s desire for the Planning Board to disregard the portion of the County’s Master Plan which calls for the extension of Mid-County Highway or M83 from Gaithersburg to Clarksburg, as it pertains to future decisions on development in the UpCounty. However, M83, which was estimated to cost $357 million in 2015, will remain in the Master Plan.
The majority of the current sitting members on the Council are opposed to M83 and wish to have it removed from the Master Plan. However, they were thwarted by a study released in February saying the roadway would be beneficial, which makes it a bit harder to remove the roadway from the Master Plan. So, the next best option, is to instruct the Planning Board to ignore it.
While the resolution will not remove the controversial roadway which has been part of the County Master Plan since the 1960s, the resolution will be worded in a way by members of the PHED committee, which consists of At-Large Councilmembers George Leventhal, Hans Reimer, and Nancy Floreen, to instruct the Planning Board to disregard M83 when it comes to new projects in the county.
During her report to the County Council, Marlene Michaelson, Senior legislative analyst for the County, told the Council during Monday’s meeting, “[The PHED] committee majority recommends that there be a resolution indicating that as the Planning Board takes up future master plans that could rely on M83, that there not be an assumption of M83 as they consider changes or increases in density that might rely on M83. That resolution is something that will follow sometime in the summer or fall.”
After Michaelson gave her report, a brief discussion of the vague and, as yet, unwritten resolution, which would affect the long term fate of the roadway followed.
At-Large Councilmember Hans Reimer spoke in support of the resolution. “I believe the committee recommendation is a good one and provides a way forward,” said Reimer. “So the community is clear, I will re-state it. I have run into many folks asking questions over the weekend. M83 is in the master plan of highways currently. The proposed work plan would have made some kind of change to that. What we said in this alternative approach here is let’s make sure that future master plans do not count any M83 when it comes to how much new development is allowed. That way we are not continuing to add to the development of the UpCounty that relies upon M83. My feeling is that we should be proceeding to invest in Rt. 355 in our corridor strategy. We will not continue to add more development that depends on M83 but not take it out of the master plan either. That is a framework that I hope people will agree that has addressed an important aspect.”
Once the topic of M83 was brought up, a contingent of the audience consisting of about a dozen or so residents held up placards reading “Yes on M83.”
In February, the Council received the results of an independent study which was to help determine if the County should move forward with plans to build M83 or fund the proposed Bus Rapid Transit program along the Rt. 355 corridor.
To the chagrin of some Councilmembers who do not support building M83, the study found both to be beneficial.
The Supplemental Report, dated Feb. 10, 2017 stated, “As a basic finding, this analysis shows that both projects are beneficial and neither project substantially replaces the benefit of the other. Rather, the benefits of the projects are cumulative.”
The only other member of the County Council who took part in the discussion of the proposed resolution was Craig Rice, who represents the Germantown, Clarksburg, Damascus, and Montgomery Village. “I just want to remind folks that while I do believe that the Rt. 355 BRT would certainly be something that would help to address some of the problems in the UpCounty. It is not the only solution. There are people that have to rely on their cars based on their situations.”
“We need to make sure our road infrastructure is also there and supportive of our community. There needs to be both. There needs to be a balanced approach. I agree we can reduce some of the congestion on our roads, on I-270, but there needs to be options. Not only do we need to increase the mass transit options for residents of the UpCounty, but we need make sure that there is a roads network and infrastructure that allows people to get to, and from, the major thoroughfares in the UpCounty region,” said Rice, who voted to approve that the resolution should be drafted.
After the vote, Rice told the Germantown Pulse that he is not sure that a resolution can be drafted which will please enough members of the Council. “We will have to see what that resolution is and what it spells out in terms of future planning aspects for the council. I am not convinced that we will be able to get to a consensus around what this resolution might say. I am willing to work with folks who might be willing to take a steps to make sure we are not making the situation worse.”
“We need to be clear about the fact that we need this road,” said Rice. “This road is something that is still going to need to be a part of our infrastructure in the UpCounty to address the current needs for our development in the Germantown, Clarksburg and UpCounty areas.”
Rice said that while the resolution is supposed instruct the Planning Board to disregard M83’s impact on a potential development, the current state of roads and traffic in the UpCounty area already warrants the building of M83.
“What we have before us right now is enough to warrant the justification of M83, not future development, or anything that may happen in the future. What is right there on the ground, the people in the cars and the folks living in the UpCounty region — already more than demonstrate the need for M83. From that perspective, I am not sure what a resolution would do when it comes to truly impacting M83 anyway.”
Top: Supporters of the long planned M83 roadway or Mid-County Highway held up placards reading “Yes on M83” during the County Council’s discussion of the proposed resolution to instruct the Planning Board to disregard M83 on the Master Plan going forward.
Next: Councilmember Hans Reimer (At-Large) said the proposed resolution proves a “path forward” for the Council.
Next: About a dozen UpCounty residents were in attendance at the meeting to show their support for the M83.
Next: Councilmember Craig Rice (District 2) reiterated the importance of easing congestion in the UpCounty with a balanced approach.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.