Midcounty Highway extension inching closer to reality -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected on May 16 at 4 p.m. An explanation follows the story.

Gaithersburg is getting closer to choosing a final plan for M-83, the proposed extension of Midcounty Highway.

At a worksession with the mayor and council at City Hall Monday evening, Bruce Johnston, Chief of the Montgomery County Division of Transportation Engineering, presented several options for an alternative to Md. 355 that would run between Clarksburg and Shady Grove.

In the 1980s, a county study determined that improvements to Md. 355 and Midcounty Highway would be required within 10 to 15 years to alleviate traffic congestion. But in the early 1990s, the Midcounty Corridor project was postponed, Johnston said, in favor of the widening of Md. 355 from two to six lanes. County officials have discussed the options for the extension of Midcounty Highway, also called M-83, since Md. 355’s expansion was completed.

The county conducted a study of the Midcounty Corridor area, which runs east to west from Wightman Road and Brink Road to I-270, and north to south from Clarksburg Town Center to I-370.

The original 11 options for M-83 have been reduced to six options.

The study rated each option based on how well it reduces congestion, accommodates future growth and projects such as the Corridor Cities Transitway, provides bicycle and pedestrian connections, improves emergency response time and reduces commute time. The option that would reduce congestion, improve safety and commute time and connect economic centers most efficiently, according to the county, is Alternative 9.

Under this alternative, Md. 124, the existing Midcounty Highway, would be widened from four lanes to five lanes from Goshen Road to Montgomery Village Avenue. A new road would be constructed behind Watkins Mill Elementary School and connect with the end of Middlebrook Road near Grassy Knoll Terrace, on the east side of Md. 355. The portion of Middlebrook Road between Md. 355 and the extension, currently a two-lane road, would be widened to seven lanes.

The county also presented several options for the northern stretch of M-83 within Alternative 9, but did not discuss them in depth at the worksession.

Johnston said in previous iterations of Alternative 9, there were concerns about the road’s impact on wetlands. That impact has been reduced so that only one acre of wetlands will be affected by the construction, Johnston said.

Gaithersburg Lead of Long-Range Planning Rob Robinson said the city has been opposed to anything that would drive more traffic onto Md. 355.

Councilmember Henry Marraffa said he has been familiar with the M-83 project for years. Trying to redesign the Montgomery Village Avenue intersection would bring in “another hailstorm,” he said.

Anything that does not fix that intersection “is defeating the purpose” of infrastructure improvements, he said.

The mayor and council plan to review the study before making a decision about the alternatives they favor.

A public hearing on the county’s study of the Midcounty Corridor is expected to be held this summer.

Committee presents plan for Constitution Gardens

An ad hoc committee presented its ideas for the revitalization of Constitution Gardens, a public park located at 112 Brookes Ave. in Olde Towne.

The park was once the site of the Gaithersburg Library before it was destroyed by a fire in 1981. An adjacent residential development now has a clubhouse and swimming pool on the land, and the rest, owned by the city, is a public park.

According to members of the Constitution Gardens Ad Hoc Improvement Committee, graffiti, vagrants and trash have negated any welcoming aspects of the park. At the worksession at City Hall Monday evening, committee members Dawn Studniarz and Deanna Holford proposed a new design for the park that would open it up to the public and clearly separate it from the residential development.

The gazebo currently on the site would move closer to the street, and art, educational plaques and a rain garden could be added, Studniarz said.

The city council strongly supported the committee’s suggested design.

“It exceeds my expectations by far,” Councilmember Jud Ashman said.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Councilmember Cathy Drzyzgula was concerned that Alternative 9 would drive more traffic into the intersection of Montgomery Village Avenue and Md. 355. The councilmember was speaking about Alternative 8, a truncated version of Alternative 9.

The story also stated that the county supported Alternative 9. The county has not yet chosen an alternative to support.