“I do believe our council has adapted a transit-first mentality,” said Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1)of Bethesda on Tuesday. “When you look at the cost of M-83 [the extension], it is so significant compared to other priorities.”A majority of the present nine-member County Council appears to support construction of a transit system to connect Clarksburg to down county jobs and shopping instead of spending more than $350 million on an extension north of the Midcounty Highway.
The county is picking up the total cost of extending a highway from Gaithersburg to Clarksburg. As of right now there is no additional planning money and no construction money in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, pending responses from the environmental agencies.
There is also associated environmental damage with proposed route, which some critics say can’t be entirely mitigated.
If built as proposed the M-83 would be a 5.7-mile highway from Montgomery Village Avenue to Ridge Road east of Interstate 270. Though the final design and route has not been set, it’s been described as a four-lane road.
Some Clarksburg residents take the opposite view, saying they moved to the suburban area expecting the highway to be extended north.
“Our quality of life and our mobility is greatly reduced if that road doesn’t get built,” said Doug Reimel, who moved from Rockville to the east end of Clarksburg Village near Md. 27 about a year ago.
“The roads around here are already gridlocked— Md. 355 out of Clarksburg, 27 is very bad, and I-270 is typically jammed,” said Reimel, who also cited commuter traffic coming south from Carroll County.
Brian Donohue of Clarksburg is a member of the appointed Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board, which meets regularly in Germantown about issues affecting the north end of the county.
“We’re like an island by ourselves,” said Donohue, who drives to work in Rockville. “We want to be connected to everybody else.”
A majority of the Upcounty board voted seven in favor of M-83, with two against and two abstaining at a meeting on April 28 with not all members present.
Advocates on both sides of the issue are making the debate over the M-83 extension an election issue as council members and County Executive Isiah Leggett head into the Democratic and Republican primaries on June 24.
However, it will be the winners of those elections who will vote whether to move forward toward building M-83, probably late this year or early next following review of the county Department of Transportation’s preferred highway route by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment.
“We’ll know if the state agencies have approved the preferred alternative toward the end of this year or early 2015,” said Edgar Gonzales, deputy director for department of transportation, during an April 21 session of the Councils’ Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment committee headed by Berliner.
At that meeting, Berliner said he wanted assurance from the county’s Department of Transportation that it has looked at every transit option conceivable, including additional bus lanes on Interstate 270, not just the various routes suggested for the M-83 extension.
“Over the time that’s gone on, hopefully there’s been an evolution in our thinking,” said Berliner, who questioned whether a highway, first put into the master plan in 1960, still makes sense.
“I am opposed to the construction of M-83 as we simply cannot afford it,” wrote Leventhal in an email to The Gazette. “At a projected cost of at least $350 million, M-83 would be three times more expensive than the most expensive transportation project in the County’s current six-year capital budget for transportation.”
He and Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3)of Gaithersburg, who is running for county executive, said proposals for the Corridor Cities Transitway, a bus rapid transit system along Frederick Road, upgraded intersections and reversible lanes on I-270 are better options.
Also supportive of transit are council memberHans Riemer of Takoma Park, who wrote in a letter to constituents that he supports a bus rapid transit route along Md. 355 between Clarksburg and Gaithersburg, expanded bus service to the bus rapid transit system and intersection upgrades.
“I have not supported M-83 for both environmental and cost reasons,” wrote at-large member Marc Elrich of Takoma Park in an email to The Gazette on Tuesday. “I believe we should complete the CCT to Clarksburg town center and complete the proposed BRT line up 355, and then we should look at what road enhancements we need.”
At-large Council member Nancy Floreen of Garrett Park said Tuesday that the issue has suddenly become politicized because the primaries are coming up.
The county-based Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended Coalition, which opposes construction of M-83, has recently talked with most council members about their positions.
Reimel, meanwhile, said he and his neighbors in Clarksburg Village are also keeping opinions about M-83 in mind as the primary approaches.
“This is a planning exercise that we’re in the middle of and it’s being turned into a political exercise, which it shouldn’t,” Floreen said. “We’ll be listening to the facts and listening to the community [at a future hearing], and we’re not at that point yet.”
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