Friday, September 6, 2013

Montgomery County Sierra Club features: Return of the Dinosaur Road

Traffic backup on I-95 North at the intersection with the Downtown Expressway in Richmond, VA.

by Ethan Goffman, Montgomery County Sierra Club

M-83, the Mid-County Highway Extended, has been in the Montgomery County master plan for 49 years and has been rejected several times. Yet, like the anachronistic dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, somehow plans for M-83, a relic from a time of endless road building and minimal public transit, have returned to life.

The M-83 extension would be a six-lane highway connecting Clarksburg to Shady Grove, already served by multiple roads but minimal transit. The highway would disrupt Seneca Creek, along with some of the last wetlands and woodlands remaining in that corridor. On August 7, the Maryland Department of the Environment and Army Corp of Engineers held a hearing on the road's environmental impact.

Plenty of alternative transit options are proposed. Besides the Corridor Cities Transitway, a Bus Rapid Transit line on MD 355 would serve Clarksburg. Improved MARC Train service and an express bus line on I-270 would also alleviate traffic. Providing the retail Clarksburg has long been promised would also reduce car trips. Yet M-83's draft environmental report spends barely one page (pg. 2-28/29) out of 1,000 discussing these options.

The plan also inadequately discusses holistic impacts on wetlands and water quality, potentially contravening the Clean Water Act. While it does mitigate the worst environmental impacts, it doesn't adequately discuss compaction of wetlands, destruction of biodiversity, and other damage.

The Montgomery County Sierra Club joined several other groups in stirring testimony against the highway, including the Coalition for Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended (TAME), the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Action Committee for Transit.  State Delegate Charles Barkley also spoke on behalf of the District 39 Team, opposing building any of M-83.

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