Upcounty board postpones Midcounty Highway vote -- Gazette.Net


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Highway options

Alternative 1: The no-build option. No improvements or construction will take place as part of this plan. Anticipated cost: $0.

Alternative 2: Improves 16 congested intersections on Md. 355, the existing Midcounty Highway, Snouffer School Road and Stedwick Road. Anticipated cost: $41 million.

Alternative 4: Widens the corridor that includes Brink, Wightman, Snouffer School and Muncaster Mill roads. The corridor would become a four- to six-lane highway with a sidewalk and bike lanes. Anticipated cost: $251 million.

Alternative 5: Md. 355 will become a six-lane highway. Anticipated cost: $120 million.

Alternative 8: Like Alternative 9, this option includes a new highway between the existing Midcounty Highway and Watkins Mill Road. This alternative would build a new four-lane highway from Snowden Farm Parkway to Watkins Mill Road, but leaves a gap between Watkins Mill Road and Montgomery Village Avenue to provide space to the Whetstone Run stream. Alternative 8 also has three divergent options for the north end of the highway. Each would end at Ridge Road, but one would enter the Agricultural Reserve, one would run along Ridge Road, and one would create a new highway in accordance with the master plan. Anticipated cost: depending on the selected option, between $255 million and $274 million.

Alternative 9: Builds a new four-lane highway between the existing Midcounty Highway and Watkins Mill Road. At that point, the road’s three ending options are the same as those in Alternative 8. Anticipated cost: depending on the selected option, between $338 million and $357 million.

—Sylvia Carignan

The sharp words and forceful rhetoric that have come to define discussions about Midcounty Highway caused an upcounty board to postpone a significant vote on the issue Monday.

The Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board is composed of 20 upcounty residents who represent different communities, including Montgomery Village, Clarksburg, Dickerson and Germantown. The board reports to the county executive on budget priorities for the upcounty region.

Members of the board held a meeting with a county transportation official Monday evening for a briefing on upcounty transportation projects, but the meeting was soon derailed once Midcounty Highway became part of the conversation.

The highway is “a very important, and therefore controversial, project,” said Edgar A. Gonzalez, the county’s deputy director for transportation policy.

The county’s Midcounty Highway extension project is intended to relieve congestion on Md. 355, improve vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian access to employment centers, commercial districts and residential areas, and do so in an environmentally sensitive manner, according to the county’s 2010 study.

The board was scheduled to vote whether to support the master plan alignment, also known as M-83 or Midcounty Highway Alternative 9, but chose to table the issue until March in order to consider the public’s comments at the meeting.

If built as presented, Alternative 9 would be a 5.7-mile highway from Montgomery Village Avenue to Ridge Road. Though the final design has not yet been determined, the Midcounty Highway has been described in a county studay as a four-lane road, connecting to two-lane Ridge Road opposite Snowden Farm Parkway.

Residents of Clarksburg, Montgomery Village, Goshen and Germantown, in addition to members of the Transit Alternatives to Midcounty Highway Extended Coalition and Action Committee Transit, voiced their concerns about the highway — and each other — at the meeting.

Of about 30 members of the public who attended the board meeting, a handful wore bright orange “STICK WITH THE PLAN” stickers, signifying their support for Alternative 9.

Chuck Tilford, president of the Greater Goshen Civic Association, wore an orange sticker. Tilford believes a road should be constructed to handle traffic coming from new neighborhoods.

“We have some serious transportation problems,” he said. The upcounty region “gets the short end of the stick, consistently.” Tilford and several other Goshen residents are concerned that the construction Alternative 4 could take out wells along the route. The Alternative 4 plan would widen the corridor that includes Brink, Wightman, Snouffer School and Muncaster Mill roads. The corridor would become a four- to six-lane highway with a sidewalk and bike lanes.

Montgomery Village resident and Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board member Mark Firley said he is worried about the “collateral damage” increased traffic would cause.

“A large part of the project is we have to fix Clarksburg.” The local transportation infrastructure was an after-thought to residential development, he said.

Rosemary Arkoian, a Goshen resident, said changes must be made and the master plan road can help alleviate congestion.

“We have to get real,” she said. “What are you going to do with all these people?”

Residents from inside and outside the growing Clarksburg community were concerned that new developments there would push main routes like Ridge Road and Brink Road beyond their breaking point if Alternative 9 is not built.

“Traffic in Clarksburg is absolutely ridiculous,” Clarksburg Civic Association President Barry Fantle said.

If the upcounty board votes to support this route, it would follow the Montgomery County Planning Board, which voted in November to support Alternative 9. The county’s study also recommends Alternative 9.

“The thing that is most disruptive to this process is having all these alternatives up in the air,” Gonzalez said.

Terry O’Grady, a Montgomery Village resident, said the project has also disrupted relationships between neighbors.

“All of a sudden, we’re baiting community against community on M-83,” she said.

The three delegates and senator of District 39 did not attend the Monday meeting in Germantown, but sent in their comments instead. The four elected officials — Sen. Nancy J. King (D) of Montgomery Village, Del. Charles E. Barkley (D) of Germantown, Del. Kirill Reznick (D) of Germantown and Del. Shane Robinson (D) of Montgomery Village — oppose Alternative 9.

“We know that the Clarksburg community is in desperate need for transportation options,” their letter states. “However, helping one community at the expense of others does not seem to be the best possible solution.”

In an eleventh-hour presentation to the board, Firley appealed to his fellow members to consider transportation projects outside of Midcounty Highway.

“We are too dependent on the automobile as the only solution,” he said.

A majority of the board members then voted to table the issue to allow more time to consider the alternatives.

The Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board will re-visit the issue and consider a vote in March.

scarignan@gazette.net