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Sprawl-inducing M-83 highway gets thumbs down from Montgomery County Executive

Last Thursday, Montgomery County transportation director Art Holmes told the County Council that County Executive Ike Leggett does not favor building the M-83 "Mid-County Highway Extended" highway project.

Photo from Google Maps.

This could be an important signal that the outdated project, which would take hundreds of millions of dollars from transit projects and incentivize more sprawl development in the northern tier of Montgomery, is falling out of favor with more and more county leaders.

At an April 23 meeting of the Transportation and Environment Committee, Holmes said:

I want to make sure that there's no misunderstanding. ... The County Executive is not in favor of going forward with M-83 into construction. He's put nothing in his CIP for design or engineering or construction, and the staff is not in favor of that. What we were talking about and which might have given people some indication was the [environmental] study and what the study is about. The study is not a recommendation for construction.

M-83 appeared to be moving forward earlier this year when Leggett first released his proposed capital budget in January. That budget funded facility planning for the M-83 highway.

The controversial highway has been under environmental review for the past 11 years because of the potential impacts on wetlands and stream valleys.

Alternative routes being studied for Midcounty Highway. Image from MCDOT.

After significant community protest, Leggett said in March that M-83 wouldn't receive future planning funding. Now, it appears he has decided to take an even more decisive stance on the project.

A consensus is beginning to emerge amongst county leaders to focus on viable, high quality transit alternatives serving Clarksburg before building more highways. With Frederick County continuing to grow to the north, many recognize that new roads will only fill up with traffic in a matter of time, and that the investment of $350 million (at minimum) of county funds would hardly bring any benefit.

Eugene EmX BRT. Photo used with permission from Lane Transit District.

Instead, supporting Clarksburg's original vision as a walkable, transit-oriented community could do much more to improve the quality of life for upcounty residents. Based on comparable speeds from other BRT systems, a trip on BRT on MD-355 from Clarksburg to the Shady Grove Metro would take about 25 minutes, which is similar to the driving time.

Completing the town square combined with an array of transit investments could provide residents real alternatives to sitting in traffic to reach the grocery store, Metro, or work.

Until now, the county's Department of Transportation has resisted developing and modeling a robust transit alternative to M-83, but that could change with the transportation director's recent comments. Given the enormous fiscal and environmental cost of M-83 to the county, it would be in all residents' best interest to examine all possible transit alternatives first.

Kelly Blynn is a former DC resident and an advocate for sustainable transportation and equitable development. She is now a graduate student in the Masters in City Planning program at MIT and a co-founding member of the pedestrian advocacy group All Walks DC. 


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Gaithersburg's non-solution = Just wreck Rockville.

by asffa on Apr 30, 2014 6:57 pm • linkreport

Anybody who couldn't find any of the 11 proposed builds acceptable are terrible NIMBYs

by asffa on Apr 30, 2014 7:02 pm • linkreport

So Leggett/TAME wants a 331 million dollar BRT from Clarksburg Rd/355 to the Shady Grove Metro Station instead?
(approx 11 miles BRT 30 mil+ per mile = Over 331 million and doesn't solve a thing for traffic - now or future - in Gaithersburg.)
I'd like to see numbers on how many people, especially in TAME, ride the bus currently to the Shady Grove Station from Clarksburg on 355 to see what this costs per passenger divided by 331 million dollars, and what instead could happen for that kind of money if you improved roads and bus service. So called "Rapid Tranit", completed for that kind of money, still take not far from what it does now - 25 minutes.
Clarksburg ought to have more benches/shelters/bike racks at their bus stops and better service - maybe that'll encourage TAME to try them, as well as immediately make transit better.

by asffa on Apr 30, 2014 7:58 pm • linkreport

I'm a member of the TAME coalition who lives in Rockville without a car and takes the bus all the time. Widening roads and adding highways ends up costing billions, not to mention the environmental impact. Then the sprawl means additional new infrastructure cost (sewage lines, parking, etc). Building new roads and adding new population north on the I270 corridor is the best way to wreck Rockville as hordes of additional cars drive through. Instead, growth should be near the urban core and to the east, say in Wheaton and Glenmont, to end the well-documented east-west divide that causes longer trips and more traffic.

by Ethan on Apr 30, 2014 10:19 pm • linkreport

I hope Montgomery County voters will show Leggett out the door this election cycle for his poor stewardship of Montgomery County transportation issues. Leggett misled voters by conducting expensive environmental studies which concluded that the road can be built, only to pull his support late in the game. Sounds like what Glendenning did with the ICC. After bungling the Silver Spring Transit Center, which may have to be torn down and rebuilt, Leggett cannot seem to get it right. He is intent on gridlock in Montgomery County and chasing away economic development.

M-83 is part of the comprehensive planned transportation network in Montgomery County serving as the Eastern Arterial. Great Seneca Highway has already been built. It is perhaps the most essential and largest unbuilt segment of the road network in Montgomery County. M-83 will ultimately link the ICC and I-95 corridor to Gaithersburg, Germantown and Clarksburg, driving economic development to parts of the county that have seen stagnant growth. It will also relieve capacity issues with I-270 and MD 355. M-83 is a separate project from BRT and the CCT as these corridors serve completely different purposes and do not compete. Again M-83 is a direct link for communities east of I-270 to the ICC corridor and complement the "Biotech Triangle" of Shady Grove - White Oak/LifeSci - and NIH.

Mr. Leggett has had two terms to pander to unions and fix the Silver Spring Transit Center. He has shown us after 8 years that he is not up to the job. Its time to elect a successor who can get things done. Doug Duncan successfully led the redevelopment of Silver Spring, one of the region's biggest success stories. He fought for the ICC in the dark days of the Glendenning Administration when they were trying to sell of land and permanently dismember it like they did to the Rockville Facility with the creation of Matthew Henson State Park (illegally). Duncan led the creation of Montgomery County's creative economy and will build on the few accomplishments of the past few years in the creation of Science City I (Shady Grove) and Science City II (LifeSci) to form the Biotech Triangle. M-83 stands in the middle of these plans and remains an essential component of the Montgomery County transportation network.

by Cyrus on May 1, 2014 1:54 am • linkreport

lol, people still think you can "fix traffic" by building roads

by Mike on May 1, 2014 7:10 am • linkreport

Doug Duncan is a roads guy who worked to block the Purple Line (he wanted to study the "outer Purple Line," which was a red herring that would have had far worse ridership) and supported the ICC boondoggle. He is likely to find ways to delay or kill BRT--and kill the Purple Line if that becomes possible--and continue work toward an "outer beltway" that will be unaffordable and environmentally disastrous.

by Ethan on May 1, 2014 8:24 am • linkreport

Hallelluja Mr. Leggett!

"Widening roads and adding highways ends up costing billions, not to mention the environmental impact. Then the sprawl means additional new infrastructure cost...growth should be near the urban core and to the east, say in Wheaton and Glenmont, to end the well-documented east-west divide that causes longer trips and more traffic. "

I couldn't agree more Ethan (pardon the paraphrasing).

by Thayer-D on May 1, 2014 8:39 am • linkreport

Leggett's allowing Wheaton/Glenmont/Rockville to get thrown under the bus - because Chevy Chase, Gaithersburg, etc. got more money and influence.
This isn't about his being revolutionary, just another politician caring about the money.

by asffa on May 1, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

Cyrus I so wish you were right, but what a terrible choice - I don't like Duncan, either.
I remember listening to an interview with Charles Ecker while he was County Executive of Howard County.
He was Republican and elected in a county that rarely voted Republican.
He felt that his job was basically being an accountant - being good with numbers, and making sure tax money is accounted for and not going to waste. And he made clear his income and living was the County Executive salary and no more.
When the County exec is making it sound like projects to improve road costs too much, and proposes instead others costing the same ("BRT") &
When the County Exec talks about how it'd be 7 million dollars to refurbish a facility and proposes instead razing it to the ground and building another one - using the SSTC developer - for 49 million - during a recession - I suspect he's not really good with the numbers.

by asffa on May 1, 2014 11:05 am • linkreport

Mike Some people think you fix it by closing off half the lanes. Which makes even less sense, IMHO

by asffa on May 1, 2014 11:07 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by asffa on May 1, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Chris on May 1, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

Thanks asffa, Cyrus for your insightful comments.

There is nothing new in the TAME blogger's piece here. Nothing has changed in terms of what was already planned. TAME and their surrogates want energize their folks by putting out these no-news pieces. Politicians are expendable items; and they quite well do their flip-flops near elections. So no need to worry here. Or is it that given their stepped up communications, could it be that TAME is now really worried??

There is three to four times more supporters for M-83 than all the out of towners that TAME could parade. Check it out here:

by Truth about M-83 on May 4, 2014 11:25 pm • linkreport

By the way, I forgot to mention that Kelly is fundamentally wrong on her almost all of arguments noted in the blog. All of TAME's opposing arguments have been shot down. Not sure what Kelly is talking about when she notes significant community protest. Can you show any proof? Please, stick to the facts, which this deceptive campaign have been lacking.

by Truth about M-83 on May 5, 2014 12:08 am • linkreport

As someone whose residence would be negatively affected by the construction of M-83, I say GREAT!!! All of the people who moved to Clarksburg should have taken into consideration the fact that while the road is great for Clarksburg, it is terrible for South Village for more reasons than I can begin to list here. Just because it has been on the Master Plan in the past doesn't mean that those who are negatively impacted by it are not going to fight against it every step of the way. That's why this road hasn't been built over the last 50 years. If it were such a good idea, it would have been built long ago. It isn't and it will never will be. DEAL WITH IT!!!

Lesson to be learned for people who live upcounty... don't buy into a community until the infrastructure has already been built. You run the risk of never having it built in the first place.

by Michael on May 7, 2014 4:15 pm • linkreport

Nice Michael.

Definition of NIMBY.

Buy house without reading master plan. Fight essential transportation infrastructure that has been on master plan for 50 years. Tough love to people in Clarksburg who read master plan expecting County would follow through once density in Clarksburg warranted road. Then back stabbing politicians like Leggett pull back.

by Cyrus on May 7, 2014 4:26 pm • linkreport

@Michael: Did you check with the folks in the village south of South Village before you moved into your village if existing MCH could be built? Or did you all ask them to "DEAL WITH IT!!!" as you note above? If true public opinion is to be considered rather than the fiction presented in this article, you are losing BIG with the lies. Will you please go ahead and list the "terrible" things that will happen to MV if the road is built? Better homes prices to all MV homeowners? It is only a matter of time before poor MV residents realize that they have been taken for a ride by special interest folks, basically losing thousands of dollars in return for their investment in their homes/community.

Also, didn't you check the master plans when you bought your home? Or did someone fool you? Master plans are legal documents in MoCo. So, I guess if you are not going to like the roadway behind your home, you may want think about selling your home and moving elsewhere. Bye, bye!

by Truth about M-83 on May 7, 2014 5:37 pm • linkreport

The ICC was supposed to be the answer to the up-county's transportation problems. It wasn't. Oh well. But M-83 really will be different. This time it will work. I promise. No more traffic jams. I promise. Oh and no massive sprawl. I promise. And no additional water pollution. I promise it won't happen this time unlike in all the past big road projects.

by Steve on May 7, 2014 9:11 pm • linkreport

@Steve: [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] But M-83 is absolutely not an ICC, and not even the typical 6-lane State highway such as MD 355, MD 118, US 29, or local roads such as Middlebrook Road! [Deleted.] FACT: M-83 is 4-lane divided median roadway, much like any other neighborhood roadway/parkway in the region. Can you look up Little Falls Parkway or Richter Farm Road?

Any by the way, another FACT [deleted]: ICC was not supposed to and never was planned to solve any Upcounty transportation problems. It was more or less to solve traffic problems in East County, Olney, and along MD 28/MD 198. Check it out. Data now shows that ICC is providing the congestion relief that it was supposed to do along the MD 28/MD 198 corridor! The recent post by Dan Reed conveniently ignored this most important data from the latest MoCo Planning Dept Mobility Assessment Report!

And a bonus FACT: M-83, regardless of the fluff out there, will tremendously benefit not just Clarksburg, but ALL Upcounty communities, including Montgomery Village. But then, who cares about facts!

by Truth about M-83 on May 7, 2014 10:14 pm • linkreport

A couple of things:

First, I did do due diligence before purchasing my residence. At that time, M-83 had actually been taken off the Master Plan. It has since been placed back on. I chose to live in a place with access to woods and easy walking to Lakeforest Mall and the library. I didn't choose to live next to a multi lane highway and the concrete noise barrier that would potentially more noise and no view.

Second, where is the money for this road going to come from. Doesn't the County, which by the way is broke, have a responsibility to keep its current roads in good order before considering the creation of new infrastructure?

Third, the residents of Clarksburg are at fault for thinking that this road was going to be buit just because it has been on the Master Plan. Sorry, but not all things built on Master Plans actually get built. The fact that this road has been considered for half a century and still hasn't been built is a strong message that there are stong reservations about it. I moved to an area with easy access to public transportation and proper infrastructure. The fact that Clarksburg residents didn't is really their own fault at the end of the day.

Fourth, since 355 is rather narrow north of Germantown, and since the County already has a right of way, wouldn't a better plan be to widen it instead of spending all of the money to build a new road, especially since it is easier and cheaper to expand existing roads? I270 can also be widened. What would happen to Montgomery Village Ave? It is already impassable most of the time between Lost Knife and I-270. Another entry point would definitely not help the situation.

Fifth, since the main point of M-83 seems to be to connect commuters to Metro, (really, are Brink Rd and 355 "that" congested on weekends) wouldn't a better solution be for Clarksburg residents to drive to either Boyds or Germantown or to lobby for good public transportation links there, so they can link up with the Brunswick Line. For $208/month with free parking, commuters can purchase a MARC Transit Link Card good on MARC, Metrorail, Metrobus and Ride-On and transfer at Rockville to the Red Line. For $256, they can purchase a TLC with tranfer at Union Station. This seems to be a better use of funds than spending $300+ million on a disaster of a new road.

Sixth, there is little economic benefit to building M-83. The area around this road has already been developed with residences. Business are located in Germantown, not on this route. Heck, Clarksburg is having trouble attracting a supermarket, thhough I do know that a Harris Teeter is on its way. This is very different thatn Great Seneca which connected Kentlands to Metro. No commercial area like this exists, not is it likely that one will be built. Therefore, no additional tax dollars for the County.

Given that, I still believe that Clarksburg needs to DEAL WITH IT. Mr. Rice needs to realize that if he continues to support this road, he will not be on the Council much longer.

by Michael on May 8, 2014 8:33 am • linkreport

So the hundreds of millions spent on the ICC is justified by some temporary traffic relief in the east county? Plus the destruction of wetlands, forests and waterways? I never see anyone on it. No one wants to pay the tolls. The tolls were part of the deal though so it would not become a traffic sewer with even more sprawl type developments all around it. If they reduce or lift the tolls, it will be an admission that the ICC was just another expressway sold under false pretenses.

The primary people M-83 will serve is developers. Once they use it to pack the up-county and Frederick with more auto-dependent subdivisions, the road will be just as congested as all they other major highways in the metro area. Then someone will dream up another road that this time will solve the problem created by the last road. And so on, ad infinitum.

Maryland and neighboring states have made commitments to taking concrete actions to clean up the Chesapeake. Is all that just a PR stunt? The health of the bay alone rules out this road. It is inconsistent with a cleaner bay. The bay needs to be factored into any decision about land use in the county. Not as an afterthought. No more business as usual. No more window dressing. No more token gestures to fool people that we care about the bay. We need to talk with our actions.

by Steve on May 8, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

@Steve: Lot of misinformation presented in your arguments. So, sorry, there is no point in debating you. Total waste of time.

by Truth about M-83 on May 8, 2014 4:09 pm • linkreport

That's what happens when a person no longer is controlling the terms of the debate.

by Steve on May 8, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

Once they use it to pack the up-county and Frederick with more auto-dependent subdivisions, the road will be just as congested as all they other major highways in the metro area.

by Josh on Jun 17, 2014 12:34 pm • linkreport

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