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:
 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! 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Montgomery County Officials Quoted Opposing M-83

We've created this short info-graphic to show what officials said on the 2014 campaign trail. Quotes are from scorecards, forums, emails and social network posts (printable PDF).

Montgomery County, Md Officials Quoted Opposing Mid-County Highway Extended (M-83)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Seneca Valley Trout Unlimited Becomes A TAME Coalition Supporter

The Coalition for Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended (TAME) announces that Seneca Valley Trout Unlimited (SVTU) Chapter has signed on with TAME's 50+ organizations and elected officials to stop further planning, design and construction for Alternatives 4, 8 & 9 in the Midcounty Corridor Study of Mid-County Highway Extended (known as M-83). 

SVTU is a local voice of Trout Unlimited. TU's vision statement is to conserve, protect and restore North America's coldwater fisheries and their watershed. One way SVTU supports TU's national vision is: to help with maintenance activities on Little Seneca Creek in Montgomery Co., southern Catoctin brook trout streams in Frederick Co., and maintenance of warmwater streams like Great Seneca Creek and areas of the Potomac River.

TAME Coalition supports multiple, viable and sustainable transportation alternatives as solutions to replace the old Mid-County Highway Extended (M-83) plan; and is working with Maryland's state and local elected officials, as well as with MNCPPC Planning Board, to remove M-83 from the Master Plan of Highways and Transitways.

Montgomery County Department of Transportation's (MCDOT) Draft Environmental Effects Report (EER) strongly favors building the 50-year-old-designed highway on alternatives with the highest bio-diverse areas and in the densest sub-urban neighborhoods of any of the original 11 alternative alignments (Alternatives 8 and/or 9). Their Draft EER acknowledges an additional nine intersections will fail county congestion standards after construction. MCDOT lists the cost of the proposed 6.2 mile highway to be $350 million. After mitigation costs are added, the total price tag is expected to double. 

MCDOT's proposed M-83 Alternatives 8 & 9 (from Montgomery Village Avenue to Rt. 27) do not align on any existing road, and will negatively impact 16 stream and wetland crossings, including Wildcat Branch (Class III natural trout reproducing stream) near Butlers Orchard, and parts of Dayspring Creek ecosystem adjacent to Dayspring Silent Retreat Center and the 300 acre North Germantown-Greenway Park.  These two alignments are made up of 90% forest, wetlands and pristine parkland, which would be irreversibly eliminated and paved over, if M-83 were built. The overall effect from deforestation of nearly 100 accumulative acres of mature ecosystems will drastically increase sediment loads in the Seneca Creek watershed, making it impossible to lower sediment levels mandated by the state. 

Transportation solutions (for north-south traffic) supported by TAME Coalition focus on:

Transit Alternatives
  1. Mass transit along existing roads being seriously considered as a viable and sustainable alternative
  2. Dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane along MD 355
  3. Building the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) from Shady Grove to Clarksburg 
  4. Increasing MARC Train to full service, adding a third track
  5. Finishing Metro's Purple Line from Rockville to Silver Spring (east/west traffic)
  6. Transportation solutions benefiting all citizens in Montgomery County
Traffic Demand Management Solutions
  1. Traffic demand management being seriously considered on existing roads 
  2. Encouraging more carpooling and vanpooling
  3. Bus lanes on I-270 during peak periods
  4. Better traffic signal operation
  5. Upgrade intersections
  6. Ramp metering

Join Us

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Come Experience a Bus Rapid Transit Vehicle at Montgomery County Fair!

We hope you’ll join us (corrected date) Monday, August 11th for a press event with County Executive Ike Leggett and more at our booth at the Montgomery Agricultural Fair!
View this email in your browser

Come Visit Us at the Montgomery Agricultural Fair

Dear TAME Coalition Supporters,
CFT would love to show you a real Rapid Transit vehicle!

Communities For Transit is delighted to announce that we are bringing a new Bus Rapid Transit vehicle to this year's Montgomery County Agricultural Fair! Along with the vehicle, we will be bringing large, interactive displays and raffles, and we'll be located right next to the main ticket booth, where thousands of residents will pass through!

We are even organizing a press event with County Executive Ike Leggett, members of the County Council, and many others to show their support for the Rapid Transit System. We'd love to bring out as many supporters as we can to show the rest of the county and state that Montgomery County is dedicated to its transit futureClick here to RSVP!

What: Bus Rapid Transit Press Tour at the Agricultural Fair
Who: County Executive Leggett, Montgomery County Councilmembers, other elected officials, Communities for Transit staff, County transportation staff
When:  (corrected date) Monday, Aug. 11th at 10:30am
Where:  Communities for Transit exhibit space next to main ticket windows at the Agricultural Fair (Perry Parkway entrance).

Please RSVP for the press event here.

Even if you can't attend the press event, we'd love if you and your family or friends would stop by Communities for Transit's space when you come visit the fair!

Montgomery County Agricultural Fair
August 8-16
16 Chestnut St, Gaithersburg, MD
Get directions to the Main Fair Entrance!

Please share this email with any groups or individuals who may be interested!
We can't wait to see you there!

Communities for Transit
8630 Fenton St, Suite 500
Silver SpringMD 20910

Add us to your address book

(301) 273-3081

Join TAME Coalition at the Ag Fairgrounds for the 
Press Event with County Executive Ike Leggett on 
(corrected date) Monday, August 11th.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Council Chairman Requests McDOT To Study Transit-Alternative to M83



May 12, 2014

Mr. Isiah Leggett
County Executive
101 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear County Executive Leggett,

​As Chair of the Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee, I am writing to request that under your direction, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation study the development of a transit-based alternative to the Mid-County Highway Extended, otherwise known as M83.

The focus of the initial Clarksburg Master Plan was to develop a transit-oriented community.  To that extent, the study, when undertaken by the Department of Transportation, should examine alternatives that would utilize existing roadways, comprehensive traffic moving strategies, such as signal timing and intersection improvements, and various combinations of transit options. 

            One such transit option that I request be included in the study should be a Bus Rapid Transit line running from Clarksburg to Bethesda, which would utilize the cross-section of Alternative 5.  This alternative called for a widened MD-355. This would mean not having bus service lanes, but instead a median corridor in which buses would travel. This approach is similar to Rockville Pike South approach where the Department of Transportation had originally planned bus service lanes, but altered their plans to median corridors.

            Other alternatives for consideration include express bus service along I-270 to the MARC and Shady Grove Metro, and all day, two-way service on at least the inner portion of the Brunswick Line. This approach would be concurrent with MARC’s Growth and Investment plan.

This study must also address and answer important questions about how transit alternatives would be impacted following the completion of the Clarksburg Town Center and what effects this may have on the estimated number of daily trips. It is also extremely important that this study take into account and model the Corridor Cities Transitway and its impact on Clarksburg’s development.

Thank you again for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response to this issue.


                                                     Roger Berliner
                                                     Transportation, Infrastructure
                                                     Energy & Environment Committee

Join Us