Last Thursday, Montgomery County transportation director Art Holmes told the County Council that County Executive Ike Leggett does not favor building the M-83 “Mid-County Highway Extended” highway project. This could be an important signal that the outdated project, which would take hundreds of millions of dollars from transit projects and incentivize more sprawl development in the northern tier of Montgomery, is falling out of favor with more and more county leaders.
At an April 23 meeting of the Transportation and Environment Committee, Holmes said:
I want to make sure that there’s no misunderstanding. ... The County Executive is not in favor of going forward with M-83 into construction. He’s put nothing in his CIP for design or engineering or construction, and the staff is not in favor of that. What we were talking about and which might have given people some indication was the [environmental] study and what the study is about. The study is not a recommendation for construction.
M-83 appeared to be moving forward earlier this year when Leggett first released his proposed capital budget in January. That budget funded facility planning for the M-83 highway. The controversial highway has been under environmental review for the past 11 years because of the potential impacts on wetlands and stream valleys.
Alternative routes being studied for Midcounty Highway. Image from MCDOT.
After significant community protest, Leggett said in March that M-83 wouldn’t receive future planning funding. Now, it appears he has decided to take an even more decisive stance on the project.
A consensus is beginning to emerge amongst county leaders to focus on viable, high quality transit alternatives serving Clarksburg before building more highways. With Frederick County continuing to grow to the north, many recognize that new roads will only fill up with traffic in a matter of time, and that the investment of $350 million (at minimum) of county funds would hardly bring any benefit.
Instead, supporting Clarksburg’s original vision as a walkable, transit-oriented community could do much more to improve the quality of life for upcounty residents. Based on comparable speeds from other BRT systems, a trip on BRT on MD-355 from Clarksburg to the Shady Grove Metro would take about 25 minutes, which is similar to the driving time. Completing the town square combined with an array of transit investments could provide residents real alternatives to sitting in traffic to reach the grocery store, Metro, or work.
Until now, the county’s Department of Transportation has resisted developing and modeling a robust transit alternative to M-83, but that could change with the transportation director’s recent comments. Given the enormous fiscal and environmental cost of M-83 to the county, it would be in all residents’ best interest to examine all possible transit alternatives first.