Monday, March 6, 2017

Mid-County Highway Extended (M-83) Road Alignment Does NOT Align with Montgomery County’s Values


Montgomery County and its leadership pride themselves on progressive values and present Montgomery County as a shining example of a local government that promotes innovative and creative strategies to improve quality of life for all residents. Montgomery County government agencies and officials often speak of promoting diversity, inclusion, equity, social justice, public health, protecting environmental quality, economic opportunity, fiscal responsibility, community engagement, interfaith alliances, high-quality public services, and equitable access to public services.
The Montgomery County Council, Planning Board, County Executive, County Departments, and all other county employees should therefore align their professional actions and policy making with the County’s espoused social, environmental, and economic values in regards to planning, budgeting, voting, final approvals, and implementation.
At the intersection of social justice, public health, environmental protection, economic opportunity, and equitable access to public services, the County Council through unanimous vote has made a commitment to move into a transit-first era.[i] This transit-first mentality specifically refers to the County Council’s pledge to move away from building more roads, and instead focus on improvement and expansion of public transit, such as additional Express Ride On buses[ii] and Bus Rapid Transit with dedicated lanes on Route 355 and Route 29.[iii]
In the endeavor to align concrete actions with the County’s stated goals, it is imperative that the County Council uphold its commitment to transit-first policies by eliminating the proposed Midcounty Highway Extended (M83) and its right-of-way from the Master Plan of Highways and Transitways, and replace M83 with transit alternatives. In Montgomery County- where a commitment has been made to shift our mindset and resources away from building more roads and toward improving public transit - building a brand new, expensive, ecologically destructive and socially disruptive road such as M83 should no longer be considered an option. [iv]
The proposed 5.7 mile M83 highway, if built, would cost more than $240.35 million per mile and at least $1.37 Billion total in taxpayer money[v]. As Councilmember George Leventhal has noted, “I am opposed to the construction of M83 as we simply cannot afford it.”[vi] By comparison, the cost of building the ICC was $136 million per mile (17.5 miles)[vii], and implementing Bus Rapid Transit would be $15-25 million per mile (14 miles fr Rockville to Clarksburg)[viii]. County Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich, and Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson have also expressed concern about the cost of building M83.[ix] County Executive Ike Leggett has made it clear that Montgomery County cannot afford to build M83, and has outright stated “I am against M83. There is no money in the FiscalYear 2015-2020 Capital Improvements Project budget for M83.”[x] On top of the fact that there is no money available in the County’s 2015-2020 budget to build M83, if money from the County budget were eventually earmarked toward building M83, the price tag of building M83 should prompt us to pause and ask the following question: Why would the County dedicate a massive 1.37 billion dollars of the fiscal pot toward a single 5.7 mile road, meanwhile allowing the Montgomery County Public School system to continue to suffer extreme overcrowding? Parents of MCPS students for years have been calling for more schools to be built, rather than the band-aid solution of portable classrooms. There is only so much money available from the County’s total budget, and if $1.37 billion is allocated toward building a new road, then using taxpayer money to build M83 will eliminate a massive chunk of the pie, leaving little left in the budget for improving the school system or providing quality public transit for the underserved Upcounty. In contrast to the price tag of $240 million/ per mile it would cost to build M83, Bus Rapid Transit on 355 would cost only $15-25 million/ per mile, thus leaving more money in the County budget to address the needs of public schools, while simultaneously providing affordable, equitable access to public transit for community members of Gaithersburg, Montgomery Village, Germantown, and Clarksburg.
In addition to its expensive cost to taxpayers, M83 will not help the economy grow. None of the six alignment routes for M83 proposed by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (including the 9A alignment chosen by MCDOT as most preferred) would pass through an area that will provide any new economic development or residential commerce, or connect to high commerce areas. Instead, M83 would be built through well-established neighborhoods in Montgomery Village and Germantown, part of the playground of Watkins Mill Elementary School, state park land, county parkland, mature forests, 7 wetlands, the headwaters of Great Seneca Creek, and an interfaith retreat center.[xi] As Councilmember Hans Riemer has stated, “I don’t believe any of M83’s six alternatives provide the right solution. I believe the best option for county residents is a mix of intersection improvements and BRT on MD355.” Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Nancy Navarro, and Tom Hucker have also said that they do not support M83 and favor improvements to transit, such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT).[xii]
There are a multitude of viable, reliable public transit alternatives to M83 which will benefit all citizens without destroying established neighborhoods or pristine forest and wetlands. These include: intersection and traffic management, reversible lanes on existing roads, telecommuting, improved transit on the five pre-existing state highways surrounding M83’s proposed path, additional Express Ride On buses, and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) with dedicated lanes on Route 355 from Rockville to Clarksburg.[xiii] The County already decided BRT was necessary for equitable growth when the Council unanimously passed the plan for the BRT Functional Master Plan in 2013. That was after years of debate. By deciding to fund roads over BRT, the County is turning its back on the sustainable, equitable future it had envisioned for Montgomery County. It is time to move forward with public transit improvements, and put our money where our mouth is in Montgomery County.
In order to bring the County Council’s actions back into alignment with their commitment to social justice, public health, environmental protection, economic opportunity, and equitable access to public services, it is time to remove M83 from the Master Plan of Highways and replace it with the transit alternatives our county residents need.
It is the citizens of Montgomery County whom the legislators and policy makers are supposed to serve, and to whom they will be held accountable. As citizens, we beseech the County leadership to align their actions and votes with the values they proclaim. 


[i] Vote in November 2013
[ii]Public hearing in Clarksburg for more Express Ride-On in upco–Mar 7, 2017
[iii]  Both BRT routes have Citizen Advisory Committees; public hearing for BRT on 29-Mar 21, 2017
[iv] Visit www.tamecoalition.org and read: The Environmental & Economic Case for Removing Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83) From The Master Plan of Highways & Transitways, p. 70
[v]  Visit www.tamecoalition.org and read: The Case For Cancelling The Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83) and Investing in More Effective and Sustainable Alternatives, p. 13
[vi]  ibid, p. 75
[vii]  mta.maryland.gov
[ix]  Visit www.tamecoalition.org and read: The Environmental & Economic Case for Removing Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83) From The Master Plan of Highways & Transitways, p. 75
[x]  ibid, p. 75
[xi] Read two reports: 1) Wetland and Stream Crossing Impacts of MCDOT’s Chosen Alternative from the EER Midcounty Corridor Study, p. 31; and 2) M-83 Damage to Forested Floodplains and Tributaries Would Adversely Increase Sediment Loads in Great Seneca Watershed, p. 46 – both in The Environmental & Economic Case for Removing Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83) From The Master Plan of Highways & Transitways
[xii] Visit www.tamecoalition.org and read: The Environmental & Economic Case for Removing Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83) From The Master Plan of Highways & Transitways, p. 75
[xiii] Visit www.tamecoalition.org and read: The Case For Cancelling The Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83) and Investing in More Effective and Sustainable Alternatives

Join Us

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Public Forum Sponsored by TAME & CSG: Modern Transit for Upcounty Montgomery



  




A modern bus rapid transit system in Eugene, OR.

Dear Advocate --

Residents of Germantown and Clarksburg face challenging commutes, and there's only so much money available for fixes. Officials have talked about various projects including I-270, M-83 Midcounty Highway, the Corridor Cities Transitway, and another bus rapid transit route along Route 355. Choices will have to be made, and they should include modern transit and good land use planning.
Public forum: Modern transit for Upcounty Montgomery
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
7:00-9:00 PM
Neelsville Middle School -- 11700 Neelsville Church Rd, Germantown (map)
RSVP appreciated >>
Clarksburg itself was envisioned as a walkable, transit oriented-community in the1994 plan. But today, high quality transit still has not arrived.
Interested in learning about transportation solutions for Upcounty?
Come out to Neelsville Middle School on Wednesday, October 21 to hear local advocacy organizations and elected officials discuss transportation options for the Upcounty area and the benefits of providing more transit!
Learn about:

  • Transit alternatives to the M-83 highway
  • Future of bus rapid transit (BRT) along Rt. 355
  • Benefits of rapid transit
I-270 could include more lanes including toll lanes and carpool lanes with room for transit, but will expansion just add more commuters from Frederick and beyond? Meanwhile, the M-83 Midcounty Highway has been criticized for not helping residents get to where they need to go. Most county leaders are looking to go in a more sustainable direction, and in 2014, the County Council approved an 81-mile bus rapid transit network including the Corridor Cities Transitway and Route 355.
RSVP if you canOn behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and our partners at the Coalition for Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended (TAME), I hope to see you there!
Thank you,
Pete

Pete Tomao
Montgomery County Advocacy Manager
Coalition for Smarter Growth
action@smartergrowth.net



Margaret Schoap

Organizer for


Join Us

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

MoCo's Future Includes Transit Alternatives To Replace Mid-County Highway Extended



Greater Greater Washington

Montgomery backtracks on a sprawl-inducing highway

After a decade-long process, it looked like Montgomery County was pushing ahead with a new highway through streams and wetlands at the edge of the county's built-up areas. But last week, county officials announced they don't support the road project after all.

Image from TAME.
In March, the county Department of Transportationissued a report recommending a new limited-access highway, around the edge of developed areas. The road, designated M-83, would approximately parallel I-270 and MD-355 but farther east, connecting the east side of Clarksburg to the current Midcounty Highway, Route 124.
This dismayed advocates who had been asking the county instead to study ways to better connect to Clarksburg with transit and fixes to local roads. Last week, DOT Acting Director Al Roshdieh put out a statement essentially repudiating the DOT's earlier recommendation:
The County Executive does not support building this road, he did not recommend the preferred alternative, nor was it an option that I as MCDOT acting director recommended. Further, there is no funding proposed for the project in the County's capital budget.
The study, "Draft Preferred Alternative/Conceptual Mitigation Report" (PA/CM) was conducted before the Route 355 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was in the master plan, and therefore it was not considered as one of the alternatives. If BRT is considered, I believe the results of the PA/CM study and its recommended alternative could be significantly different. I strongly endorse this reassessment.
During my three months as MCDOT Acting Director, I continue to look for ways to promote a broader view of mobility in Montgomery County that is not necessarily wedded to building more roads. Taking a fresh look at various M-83 options, including the Route 355 BRT, is an important step in my vision for this department.
The council pushes M-83 out of limbo
In 1964, before the Clean Water Act had passed, Montgomery planners drew a future highway on maps to the east of MD 355. The road ran through wetlands and stream valleys to complete a "ladder and rung" network of arterial roads that would facilitate development in upcounty Montgomery. Since then, Midcounty Highway, also known as M-83, has been the subject of battles for over 50 years.
In its most recent chapter, the Montgomery County Council asked the county DOT in 2004 to study whether the highway, with its impacts to wetlands and streams, would be legal under modern environmental laws. Last year, DOT officials said they would complete the study in March of 2014, but were then silent about their progress for the rest of the year.
On March 2nd, the council's Transportation and Environment Committee surprised MCDOT leadership by asking about the study. Members suggested that, if it was complete, it should go to federal regulators for a decision one way or the other. It appears that Council transportation staffer Glenn Orlin learned that the study had been finished for some time, and suggested that the committee ask for some resolution on the issue.
"If we're not going to build it, we should take it out of the master plan", he said in the committee session. "My understanding is that the report was done last summer and has not been sent to the feds. However you feel about the project, it's delaying a resolution."
Chair Roger Berliner said, "It's no secret I'm not a big fan of this project. I'm even less a fan of ambiguity and being in limbo." The committee members, while harboring different opinions about the project, all agreed that MCDOT should make the study public and send it to regulators. Berliner and fellow committee member Tom Hucker, along with a majority of council members, now publicly oppose to the project, while Nancy Floreen, the third member of the committee, supports it.
The county suggests a destructive option, then backs away
After getting the prod from the council, the DOT issued its report and recommended Alternative 9A, the original alignment from the 1960s master plan. At $350 million, it is the most expensive of the six alternatives analyzed, a price tag that doesn't include environmental mitigation to compensate for the wetlands, floodplains, and forests it would damage.
In contrast to his agency's position, County Executive Leggett has said he is against the road: shortly after the release of the study, a spokesperson for the County Executive told the Washington Post that Leggett "opposes the road project because of its cost."
Throughout the study, it has been clear that the those in charge were building up arguments towards 9A. But more recently, top leaders who were most focused on building roads have left. Their replacements are already backing away from the controversial project.
WTOP reporter Ari Ashe tweeted recently that MCDOT Acting Director Al Roshdieh told him he was against M-83, and that it was "over." After I mentioned the M-83 report in a list of cautionary notes about whether the DOT was really reforming, DOT spokesperson Esther Bowring called to say that Roshdieh considers the 9A option "dead."
"If we don't do this, we need to do something else"
During the March 2nd committee meeting, Councilmember Floreen said, "If we don't do this, we need to do something else." Many residents in Clarksburg rightly feel that the county made and broke many promises, including to build retail and provide good transportation. Development in Clarksburg was initially supposed to coincide with transit service, but the transit has not materialized.
However, this road is not the answer. It will only make new sprawl development, including up in Frederick and Carroll Counties, even more desirable, leading people to live there and work in Rockville, Bethesda, or DC, be dependent on cars, and clog the roads further for commuting and shopping.
The better solution for all upcounty residents is to build the transit that was promised in the first place. Berliner and many advocates have recommended building the study's Alternative 2, a package of small widenings to congested intersections as well as new sidewalks and bike paths, and Alternative 5, which would widen MD-355—but using the new lanes as dedicated lanes for BRT rather than new car capacity.
>
Left: Alternative 9. Right: Alternative 5.
Bowring said that county officials are meeting next week to discuss next steps to reexamine the county's recommendations and start moving toward, or at least seriously studying, the transit options that many residents are pushing for.
To fully put the idea of a new highway to rest, the county would have to remove it from the master plan. The decision to do that would be up to the county council, Berliner said, and the council could ask the planning department to be involved if it wished.
Unless something changes, the Army Corps of Engineers will go ahead and evaluate Alternative 9A. Some may be hoping the corps just tells Montgomery County it can't build the road; that would forestall a local political battle between those who still want a new highway and the majority of the county council that doesn't.
Either way, this 50-year battle is far from over.
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle.

Join Us!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MCDOT & County Executive Do Not Support Building M83 Road Alternative


Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT)
Release ID:
  Release Date:
  Contact:
  From:
 15-070
 4/7/2015
 Esther Bowring, Community Relations Manager   240.777.6513
 Office of the Director


 Statement of Montgomery County Department of Transportation Acting Director Al Roshdieh Concerning the M-83 (MidCounty Corridor) Study 

Last month, the Montgomery County Council T&E (Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment) Committee directed the Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to forward its report recommending a preferred alignment for M-83 to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment for review. The report, which was completed last year, assesses nine alternative alignments for north/south travel in the Clarksburg area, including the preferred option currently in the transportation master plan. Because the permitting agencies are reviewing the report’s recommendations, questions have arisen about MCDOT’s position on this road, so I would like clarify the position of the County Executive and my own position.

The County Executive does not support building this road, he did not recommend the preferred alternative, nor was it an option that I as MCDOT acting director recommended. Further, there is no funding proposed for the project in the County’s capital budget.

The study, “Draft Preferred Alternative/Conceptual Mitigation Report” (PA/CM) was conducted before the Route 355 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was in the master plan, and therefore it was not considered as one of the alternatives. If BRT is considered, I believe the results of the PA/CM study and its recommended alternative could be significantly different. I strongly endorse this reassessment.

During my three months as MCDOT Acting Director, I continue to look for ways to promote a broader view of mobility in Montgomery County that is not necessarily wedded to building more roads. Taking a fresh look at various M-83options, including the Route 355 BRT, is an important step in my vision for this department. 

Join Us!