The Montgomery County Council approved the resolution titled “Transportation Solutions for Northwest Montgomery County” on Tuesday, Oct. 31. The resolution which instructs the County Planning Board to ignore M-83, the long-planned roadway which would connect the Mid-County Highway in Gaithersburg to Snowden Farm Parkway in Clarksburg, when making future decisions about development.
The Council voted 7-2, with UpCounty District 2 Councilmember Craig Rice and At-Large Councilmember Nancy Floreen voting against the resolution.
In September, At-Large Councilmember and Council Vice President Hans Riemer proposed the resolution. M-83 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 M-83,” 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.
M-83 is a much-debated topic in the County. Indeed, this resolution was the subject of an often raucous public hearing on Oct. 17 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.
“This is not the way we should move forward,” said Rice just before Tuesday’s vote. “While I understand that the Council Vice President is looking to make sound decisions from the master plan perspective. I will just make sure that when these master plans come before us that we still understand that we have made no definitive decision when it comes to M-83. As far as the Council goes, it is still on our master plan, so therefore we will continue pushing for these issues to develop as they should as one of the major hubs in Montgomery County — one of the major hubs for people with Germantown over 100,000 and Clarksburg at 20,000 now and continuing to grow. From that perspective, this goes counterintuitive to what we are seeing on the ground, let alone what continues to need to be done in addressing the transportation issues for the UpCounty.”
Nancy Floreen said the resolution was a slap in the face to residents of the UpCounty who purchased their homes in hopes that M-83 would be built.
“The difference between what you are all saying and the reality is that actually M-83 was assumed for the people who are here — for Clarksburg, for Damascus, and for Germantown. The only reason we are doing this is because a couple of months ago when the director of planning was asked if this resolution would affect any master plans coming up, she said no.”
She said that the resolution was more about public perception than any decision on the fate of the long-planned roadway. “There is nothing in here that says we are going to build M-83. So that is a win for the environmentalist, I guess. And, there is nothing in here that says we are going to build M-83, which is a win for the UpCounty. I suppose, I should be happy about this because we leave M-83 on the master plan for the future, which is a good thing. But, because we are doing something that is designed to fuel public perception one way or the other, I think it is just plain irresponsible. It is a gratuitous slap in the face to the people who relied on the master plan. And for the people who are opposed to it, it continues the argument ad infinitum. I don’t think that is fair to them. It is inconsistent things we have done historically. To act like this is a meaningful gesture is just plain wrong, and I cannot support it.”
M-83 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.
The resolution invokes the County’s support of the Paris Climate Accord. “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 five years through 2050.
When the resolution was made public in September, Marilyn Balcombe, President and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, asked if the Council was planning to stop building new roadways in the County.
“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 25 candidates for one of four open At-Large seats on the County Council. “Does this proposed resolution mean that we are never building any more roads in the County?”
While the approval of the resolution changes the way the Planning Board approaches new development, it doesn’t say anything about the fate of M-83 which 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.
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 M-83 or fund the proposed Bus Rapid Transit program along the Rt. 355 corridor.
To the chagrin of Councilmembers who do not support building M-83, 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.”
Photos by Germantown Pulse