Not knowing history is no excuse for messing up the future (not to mention the present). Contrary to Mark Firley’s post, “Getting’ Over on M-83," the Master-Planned M-83 is not a redundant road added late in the game for the sole convenience of north-county newcomers and County tax collectors. M-83 has been an integral part of upcounty planning from the beginning and is designed and located to provide the entire upcounty with efficient local traffic that would otherwise overwhelm the historic MD-355 and not mix well with a high-speed Interstate highway. Failure to follow through on this plan has turned rural roads into danger zones, congested other local roads, and regularly brings I-270 to a stop-and-go crawl. The net result is personal frustration, economic loss, public hazard, an inefficient bus system and greatly enhanced emission of air pollution and carbon dioxide. It’s time to look again at how we got into this sorry state.
In the 1950s and 60s it became evident that there would be major growth in the greater Washington DC area. At that time northwest Montgomery County was rural with a scattering of small towns built along the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the historic road west – MD 355. Planning for future growth started with the Wedges and Corridors concept – concentrating higher density residential, retail, and commercial development along transportation corridors with density decreasing into “green” wedges to the sides of the corridors. MD 355 and a new state highway – that morphed into I-70S and I-270 – was one of the principal corridors. It was evident that the capacity of MD 355 would be limited by communities dating to colonial times, and the existing network of rural roads was even more restricted. Therefore a central element of planning from the start was two new high-capacity local roads on the east and west sides of the central corridor - Midcounty Highway and Great Seneca Highway.
The rights of way for these roads were specified in Master Plans starting in the mid 1960s and all subsequent upcounty planning and development has assumed completion of these roads, and development has not been allowed in the right of way. The right of way for the Midcounty Highway is identified in County planning documents as M-83 and extends from the Intercounty Connector to the far edge of Clarksburg. Construction of the Midcounty Highway on the M-83 right of way was completed in 1970/71 from Shady Grove Road to Montgomery Village Ave. The portion from Rt. 27 through Clarksburg (now designated as A305) is largely built and scheduled to open within a year. The connection to the ICC is “on the books.” The missing link between Montgomery Village Ave and Rt 27, generally referred to as M-83, is a critical part of the Montgomery Village and Clarksburg infrastructure, but also essential to the establishment of an efficient road system that connects together upcounty communities and employment centers, and supports the backbone of an effective bus system.
Completion of this road was a central part of the Montgomery Village plan and advertised by the developer, Kettler Brothers, as one of the assets of this new community. In 1970 no one suggested that a road serving Montgomery Village was a burden on the downstream Mill Creek Town - everyone knew this was a road for the entire county, including the already-planned Clarksburg. And since the route was spelled out in Master Plans, new developments, including the just-started Watkins Elementary School, were located to accommodate and coexist with the new highway..
So it is surprising and disturbing to now find this public infrastructure opposed as an intrusion on Montgomery Village. There is of course further opposition on environmental grounds. Any new construction raises legitimate environmental concerns, but the discussion of M-83 has distorted these completely out of proportion. The currently prominent environmental issue is impermeable surfaces. To construct Montgomery Village trees were cleared, the ground leveled, and the area covered over with impermeable roofs, roads and parking lots, amounting to an area the magnitude of a square mile. Most people would accept the environmental cost of Montgomery Village as justified by providing housing for 10s of thousands of people in what was one of the best communities in Montgomery County. With this great beginning it is most unfortunate that the isolationist clique that has dominated the public face of Montgomery Village has been able to stop the most critical part of the upcounty transportation infrastructure - M-83, whose impermeable area will be a few percent of that found in Montgomery Village.
I will make common cause with Mark Firley on several points: 1) Objection to permitting development on the basis of paper infrastructure. But who could have the anticipated the manic opposition to a vital part of that infrastructure? 2) The need for transit. We have been offered a long list of solutions – Metro extension, light rail, CCT, and RTV (I apologize for any overlooked acronyms), all promoted with slick drawings, studies, and hearings, but nothing to ride on. The feasible option is a three-letter word – bus. But buses need an effective road system and M-83 would be the backbone of a truly rapid bus system. 3) The transition of the upcounty from a bedroom community to an integrated mix of residences, retail, and employment. This is a glittering success along the completed Great Seneca Highway. But the Midcounty Highway dead-ends in a Montgomery Village that is afflicted with serious problems in some of its housing and retails areas. Isolating Montgomery Village from the rest of the upcounty may protect it as a struggling bedroom community, but it has also helped change it from the star of the upcounty to an obstacle. Worse yet, denying the rest of the upcounty access to a major part of long-planned county infrastructure spreads the damage – within and well beyond the Village.