“People care deeply about this issue,” said County Council President Roger Berliner at one point during Tuesday night’s public hearing on the proposed a resolution titled “Transportation Solutions for Northwest Montgomery County” which would instruct the County Planning Board to ignore M83, as residents in attendance began to become a bit rowdy. “What you hear tonight is an evenly divided testimony. Obliviously, people care deeply on both sides. Let’s be respectful of people on both sides.”
The Montgomery County Council heard from 30 residents on Tuesday night about the proposed resolution. At the start of the meeting, Berliner said the Council would hear from 17 residents speaking in favor of the resolution, and 17 speaking against the resolution. However, a number the individuals scheduled to speak did not appear.
With the exception of a councilmembers Craig Rice, Hans Riemer, and Nancy Floreen and the admonishment from Berliner, members of the Council did not address the public. councilmembers Tom Hucker, District 5 – Silver Spring and Sidney Katz, District 3 – Gaithersburg/Rockville were not in attendance at the public hearing.
M83 is the highway which has been on the County’s master plan since 1966. It is the extension of the Mid-County Highway which would run from Montgomery Village Avenue in Montgomery Village to Ridge Road in Clarksburg. If completed the 5.7-mile extension would provide a direct route from Clarksburg Village to Shady Grove Road near the Metro Station and the entrance to the Inter-County Connector, MD 200.
This is an old and much-debated topic in the County about a road which exists only as an idea thought of over 50 years ago, but it has gotten new life as development in the Clarksburg area continues to grow, and the County continues to drag its feet on providing transportation improvements for the growing UpCounty population.
In September, At-Large Councilmember Hans Riemer proposed a resolution titled “Transportation Solutions for Northwest Montgomery County” which would instruct the County Planning Board to ignore M83.
M83 will remain part of the Master Plan, but the Planning Board will not make judgments 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 Mid-County Highway Extension. I am totally opposed taking a highway away,” Riemer told Germantown Pulse in September.
Reimer said, “What this resolution does 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.”
The public hearing began with a speaker in favor of the resolution. Peter Young, President of Montgomery Village Foundation, Board of Directors said his group supported the resolution because it outlines how the council is going to bring congestion relief to the UpCounty, through expanding capacity on I-270, implementing transit alternatives, including the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), Bus Rapid Transit in the Rt. 355 Corridor, and improvements to MD Rt. 355.
“We believe that the County is doing very good work in stepping up service along the 355 corridor with a brand new RideOn Extra limited stop route which started this month. Let’s push for more solutions like these, all of these transportation priorities will improve traffic from Clarksburg to Shady Grove. This resolution puts forth a solution that is better for the environment and will yield community and economic benefits far better than building M83.”
Young was followed by Susan Swift, the executive director the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, who supports the building of M83. “The resolution before you seeks to ignore Mid-County Highway’s purposeful history and neglects the fact that it was promised as a life-blood north-south access for Clarksburg, the fastest growing community in the County,” said Swift. “It is unrealistic and short-sighted to either remove it from the master plan or, as in this resolution, pretend it is not going to be counted in capacity. What happens to all of the density built and already attributable to this missing link?”
Swift was followed by Margaret Schoap, of the Coalition for Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended, known as the TAME Coalition, which has been a vocal group against the building of M83.
“Clearly, M83 strikes out by not being aligned with County’s economic development policies, nor the MCDOT’s sustainability policy for the environment,” said Schoap. “This proactive and reality-based resolution accomplishes far more than making a basic transportation on this road. I hope this resolution leads to more discussions on how land-use affects transportation throughout this county.”
Boyds resident Vyjayanthi Krishnan, with the Summer Field Crossing Home Owners Association, accused the proponents of this resolution as using it as the first step to eventually removing M83 from the master plan. As step, this County Council attempted in February of this year until it was met with opposition from many UpCounty residents.
“Many UpCounty residents understand that this resolution is a roundabout effort to remove M83 from the plans for the UpCounty. If this resolution is passed, within a year or so, M83 will be quietly removed from master plans saying that it was not used for future planning and therefore its need is no longer required.”
Stephanie Graves, who serves as legislative chairman for the Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce, argued that the presumptions that M83 is unlikely to be built, which have led to the need for such a resolution, are based on three reasons lack of funding, better alternates, and it will take too long. “Funding obviously exists,” said Graves, “given that the analysis to date has yielded no objective measure for ranking different projects from a cost-benefit perspective, the choice of which projects are funded is essentially a political one.” She suggested the Council might want to consider alternative sources of funding such as a toll between Mid-County Highway and the ICC to offset funding.
“We have a congestion crisis in the UpCounty now,” said Graves, “and we need immediate solutions now. Arguably, because the County already owns the wetlands, streams and mitigation sites M83 can move forward faster than any of the other project if the County would only make it a priority.”
It was Germantown resident Laura Markus which created the first stir in the room. Markus said that she lives next to the proposed route of M83, and the roadway would come within 40 yards of her garage on Wayfarer Road/Brink Road in Germantown. She said that was concerned about the declining home values of residents in the Watkins Meadow development as a result of the possibility of M83 being built.
“Millions of taxpayers dollars have been spent on studies and permits, but there is no clear answer that this road is going to do much to alleviate the gridlock that we face every day,” said Markus. “When I asked the question, where are the folks from Clarksburg going? I was told they are going shopping. Seriously?” At which point many members of the audience began to speak up and interrupt her, saying they were going to work. “Where are these folks from Clarksburg going?” continued Markus, “They are going to be dumped out on Shady Grove Road, how many are actually going to get on the ICC? Do we even know where these people are going? Most likely they are going to go to Rockville, DC, or northern Virginia, how does M83 help? The most recent study shows that the fastest time from Shady Grove Metro to Brink Road and Ridge Road was only reduced by three to five minutes.”
At the speakers’ break, Councilmember Craig Rice, who represents the UpCounty and his been a proponent of building M83, felt the need to address Markus’ comments and those of Margaret Schoap for suggesting that M83 would not have an economic development benefit.
“We have been discussing this road for quite some time,” began Rice. “What we are really doing is pretending as though nothing has happened in Germantown and Clarksburg, and nothing continues to happen in Germantown and Clarksburg. We are pretending that those developments didn’t happen. We are pretending that Germantown doesn’t have 100,000 residents already and that Clarksburg will soon be at 40,000 if not 60,000 in the next few years — that is a big mistake. We should be serious about where we are and the circumstances that we find ourselves in.”
“Every single road alignment and mass transit initiative all have the key of tying in our economic development opportunities. And let me just say, I know where my folks in Clarksburg are going — they are trying to get work.”
Rice added that a reduction of time spent commuting would be a great benefit for thousands of UpCounty residents. “The governor just proposed $9 billion to supposedly save us nine minutes. That is $9 billion for nine minutes, so when we are getting three to five minutes of significant travel time for a lot less [if M83 is built], I’d say that is a pretty darn good deal.”
Richard Wilder, of the Citizens for South Valley Park, spoke about the impact the road would have on the natural parkland, “M83 was chosen in the 60s before the 1972 Clean Water and Clean Air Acts targeting areas that should not be developed such as streams and parkland. The DOT preferred Alternative 9A impacts seven parks,” said Wilder. “Can you believe that, seven of our major parks? That is 49 acres, in addition to Dayspring Silent Retreat. Most of the parks include the best parkland preserved in Montgomery County. If we destroy these wonderful limited natural resources, what are we going to leave for our children?”
Wilder’s comments were echoed by Jim Hall, who spoke on behalf of Dayspring Church in Germantown, which would be adversely affected by the construction of M83. “The idea to build a major highway in this beautiful parkland goes back as far as the late 1950s and 60s — the days when we were urged to “See the USA in our Chevrolet” and take afternoon drives in the country. Back then, we were oblivious to things like greenhouse gases and climate change. Week by week the magnitude of climate breakdown that we are facing becomes more apparent. The planners back in the 1960s could not have known, but we know, and that changes everything — everything about how we live on this planet and in Montgomery County.”
Germantown resident Gale Quist, who lives right next to the proposed route of M83 said there is no way to make a highway and forest coexist. “The county has spent years developing a documented list of the many negative impacts of this road, ecological, social, economic and more. Each new study has shown this road to be more harmful. As an environmental scientist, I believe these impacts make the road unthinkable to ever construct. Even with all the proposed expensive mitigations, the road will destroy a massive swath of woodlands, wetlands, streams and other habitats. You can just mitigate transforming a forest into a highway.”
Robert Nelson pointed out the County’s hypocrisy when it comes to highway construction and development of infrastructure. “Traffic congestion is the top concern of Montgomery County voters, yet this resolution on transportation solutions does nothing to change the current county philosophy approving development without providing adequate infrastructure. It condones adding 40,000 residents to Clarksburg because ‘someday’ we will widen I-270. It permits turning Crown Farm into Downtown Crown ‘someday’ we will build the Corridor Cities Transitway. It allows the constructions of hundreds of home on the former Montgomery Village golf course because ‘someday’ we’ll improve Route 355. But the ‘someday’ never arrives.”
Nelson continued, “The only transportation project listed in the proposed resolution that is totally under the control of Montgomery County is the completion of M83. Why is it that when roads are extended in the UpCounty such as Watkins Mill Road, Goldenrod Lane, Father Hurley Boulevard, Woodfield Road, Century Boulevard, Snowden Farm Parkway, and Observation Drive there is not an outcry that an international climate agreement or a County sustainability policy is being violated? Yet, the completion of the Mid-County Highway on the master-planned route is actually less mileage than the totality of the aforementioned County approved road extensions.”
Nelson railed against the County for not giving UpCounty residents a fair share of the capital-improvement pie. “UpCounty voters deserve their fair share of CIP funding. We do need UpCounty transportation solutions. M83 is the most studied road extension and is a shovel-ready project. Let’s give the UpCounty commuter the fastest route between Clarksburg and Shady Grove Metro. Defeat this proposed resolution and then, resolve to add M83 to the CIP.”
The County Council is expected to take up the resolution at a future Council meeting. Residents have until Friday, Oct. 20 to submit testimony for or against this resolution. Tuesday’s public hearing can be seen in its entirety on the County Council’s website.
Photos courtesy Montgomery County