County Council Invokes Paris Climate Accord in Resolution to End M83 Debate
As promised in May, the Montgomery County Council has introduced a resolution which would direct the Planning Board to ignore the possibility of M83 ever being built. The resolution makes that case that the M83, also known as the MidCounty Highway, should not be built because of Montgomery County’s support of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Yes, that Paris Climate Agreement. The one that President Donald Trump had removed the United States from participating in back in May.
The resolution is sponsored by At-Large Councilmember Hans Riemer and co-sponsored by President Roger Berliner and the three other At-Large Councilmembers Mark Elrich, Nancy Navarro, and George Leventhal. It was introduced as part of the Council’s Consent Agenda at Tuesday’s regular Council meeting.
The resolution was not read at the meeting and no Councilmembers commented on the resolution. It was approved for introduction as part of the Consent Calendar, among six other items introduced at the meeting, as is the Council’s custom.
The resolution begins by talking about the lack of transportation options for folks living in the Germantown/Clarksburg area. Its states, “Mobility for Upcounty residents is limited due to congestion and a lack of public transportation alternatives” but goes on point out that there has been “no clear consensus to extend Midcounty Highway to the north, yet master plans have assumed the availability of such an extension.”
It goes on to state, “Montgomery County is committed to protecting our environment and doing our part to stem the carbon emissions that are driving global climate change.” It points to the Council’s adoption of a resolution in June to reaffirm Montgomery County’s commitment to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Those goals include, reducing County-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent reduction every 5 years through 2050.
In June, after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Montgomery County Council adopted a resolution reaffirming the Council's commitment to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
With this new resolution, the County Council seems to be taking the position that by not building M83, the County will reduce greenhouse gas emissions because a road that would ease congestion would also incentivize residents to drive.
Ironically, the resolution was introduced two days before Maryland’s Governor announced plans to dramatically increase the capacity of cars on the area’s largest and busiest highways.
Marilyn Balcombe, President and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce said she was taken aback by the resolution invoking the Paris Climate Agreement.
“I understand that members of the Council do not want additional residential construction to be approved in Clarksburg without having adequate transportation infrastructure in place. Based on that premise, I understand the impetus for the proposed legislation. However, I but do not agree with invoking the Paris Climate Agreement. To my knowledge, resolution 18-846 does not state that the County will cease construction of all road projects. In fact resolution 18-846 does not mention roads at all.”
“The County has environmental assessments in place to ensure the protection of our climate. If those environmental assessments are inadequate, there should be legislation directly related to that process. But to invoke the Paris Climate Agreement for any project that someone may disagree with is a very slippery slope,” said Balcombe, who is also one of 16 candidates for one of four open At-Large seat on the County Council. Does this proposed resolution mean that we are never building any more roads in the County?”
Riemer’s resolution also relies on the Montgomery County Department of Transpiration’s adoption of a Sustainability Policy that commits that the County will "Plan and implement a transportation system that broadly considers ecosystem and climate impacts, reduces and prevents waste and pollution, uses renewable resources, uses sustainable sources of energy and reduces energy consumption."
The resolution goes on to state: “The Council supports “expanded capacity on I-270, the Corridor Cities Transitway, Bus Rapid Transit on or near MD 355, and improvements on MD 355. These improvements will provide significant, immediate relief for Upcounty residents. These improvements align with our economic development strategies, providing the broadest and most diverse benefits, and minimize impervious surface, stormwater runoff, carbon emissions, and other environmental impacts.”
And ends with the Council directing the Planning Board to ignore the possibility of M83 ever being built when making determinations about future development in the UpCounty area.
The resolution states: “The Council directs the Montgomery County Planning Board not to assume additional road capacity from the northern extension of Midcounty Highway when calculating the land use - transportation balance in future master plans, including but not limited to the upcoming Gaithersburg East Master Plan and the Germantown Plan for Town Sector Zone. This step ensures that any new development allowed under these plans does not rely on the northern extension of Midcounty Highway, while retaining the right-of-way for this extension in these plans.”
“What this resolution does,” said Reimer, who spoke to Germantown Pulse via telephone, “is leave the road on the master plan of highways, but since there is no agreement to build it, we are going to stop adding more development in master plans where that development doesn’t work unless you have the road.”
“People in that part of the county are struggling with traffic and congestion, just like folks all areas of the county,” said Reimer. “People are frustrated that development was allowed to happen that may have been reliant on M83 to work. The point of the resolution is to not make that problem worse. It says; let’s not add more development that relies on M83 to work.”
“When we do master plans, we create underlying transportation analyses, and those are created using the assumption that everything in the master plan is going to be built. So there is a ghost M83 built into the spreadsheets, and the traffic capacity calculations are artificially inflated because of the ghost roadway,” said Reimer. “We are going to continue to do master plans in the next few years we will consider Germantown and East Gaithersburg, and what we are saying is no ghost M83 in the transportation calculations. Any new development has to work without that road.”
According to Reimer, M83 will remain part of the Master Plan, but the Planning Board will not made judgements based on the roadway being built. “The council will still decide in the future what will or won’t be built when it comes to M83,” said Reimer who stated that he is opposed to completely removing the MidCounty Highway Extension. I am totally opposed taking a highway away.”
The old issue of the fate of M83 promises to be an important part of the 2018 election for County Council as three At-Large seats including Reimer’s are on the ballot. Reimer has filed to run for reelection. While Berliner, Elrich, and Leventhal are all running for the County Executive’s seat being vacated by Ike Leggett.
Closer to home in the 2nd District, Craig Rice will face one of two Republican challengers, Ed Amatetti and Tom Ferleman.
Ferlman weighed in on the most recent move by the Council regarding M83. “For 30 years, I've supported building M-83 along its original route. As a child, riding my bike up and down Montgomery Village Avenue, I was aware of that big sign: "Future Site of M-83. Today, as a candidate for County Council in District 2, I stand with the Coalition for Upcounty (C4U) in Clarksburg and other community leaders fighting for our community.”
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 to residents of the UpCounty.
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.”
At a Council meeting in May, the notion of a resolution instructing the County Planning Board to ignore the planned roadway was discussed, as a group of M83 supporters — many Clarksburg residents — became vocal while holding up signs reading “Yes on M83.” The idea of the was put forth as way to keep the embattled roadway in the master plan, but instruct the Planning Board to pretend it isn’t. The result is the resolution introduced this week.
One of those who support M83 is Stephanie Graves, an UpCounty resident and legislative chairman of the Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce. “All of the opposition to M83 seems to be driven by an analysis paid for by The Coalition Transit Alternatives to the Mid-County Highway Extended, also known as T.A.M.E.,” said Graves. “According to the engineers at the Planning Department and other engineering firms who have reviewed the formal M83 study, the data and conclusions drawn in the T.A.M.E. study are unsupportable. In fact all of the people with actual expertise in the field agree that M83 is very much needed. It is clear that something other than am objective analysis of the Upcountry congestion problem is driving the debate.”
The County Council will hold a public Hearing on the resolution on Oct. 17 at 7:30 pm in the Council Chambers in Rockville.
Editors Note: This story was update Sept. 25, 2017 at 5:45 pm. The wording of the four paragraph was changed to read, "The resolution was not read at the meeting and no Councilmembers commented on the resolution. It was approved for introduction as part of the Consent Calendar, among six other items introduced at the meeting, as is the Council’s custom." The words "for introduction" was added to the phrase "approved for introduction."
Top: The County Council has introduced a resolution to instruct the County Planning Board to ignore the possibility of M83 being built when making determinations about future development in the UpCounty.
Next: The resolution was introduced by Hans Riemer, an At-Large Councilmember who lives in Takoma Park.
Next: In May many residents from the UpCounty attended the Council meeting to show support for M83.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.