Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended

M-83 Extended: Suicide of Our Community

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Article by Mark J. Firley

When one confronts the scene of a suicide, there is an almost obscene intimacy that results from being forced to contemplate that most personal act of what was once another life.  There are parallels in the life of a community, moments when one identifies a trajectory that ultimately leads to prosperity or ruin.  

Watching the August 7 hearings held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the proposed extension of MidCounty Highway (M83) was one of those occasions.  Montgomery Village and North Germantown-Greenway Park effectively ended their existence to the benefit of a cadre of unelected bureaucrats.

How did that happen?  The Montgomery County Department of Transportation selected the old “Master Plan Route” for M-83 (the so-called Alternative 9) that would effectively split Montgomery Village physically and sacrifice it (and its residents) to service the myth that developers pay for infrastructure in the county.  To satisfy the technical requirement to produce alternatives, MCDOT whipped up a giant “poison pill” in the form of Alternative 4, which cut through historic neighborhoods, destroyed numbers of homes, and generally could not have been approved by any sane agency.   

But the pretense of an alternative was enough.  Opposition to M83 coming from Germantown, Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village instantly fractured into two competing “not-in-my-backyard” camps.  Instead of focusing on what should be done instead (the so-called “demand management option” or SR355 improvements), the community opposition to this concrete constrictor broke in two – with people agreed only on the fact that they didn’t want it in their part of the community, but happy to throw their neighboring subdivision under the non-existent bus of transit we deserve and still don’t have.

It was a masterwork of political engineering – MCDOT divided the community and reduced its net message to “NIMBY” all the while knowing that the “Master Plan Route” gained credibility by being the default.   By focusing opposition on Alternative 4, the shell game advanced Alternative 9, which is the only “alternative” that has ever been given serious consideration by MCDOT.  Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg, and east Germantown will pay the price in noise, pollution, congestion, and aggravation to give no more than a few years’ reprieve to Clarksburg, where the cycle of insufficient transportation alternatives is starting all over again.  If the consequences were any less awful, one could almost applaud the gamesmanship.   

For the citizens of Clarksburg, the consequences may well look like sweet victory – the stars are lining up to give the long-suffering residents some hope that transportation relief will be coming in the form of a big new road.   But the benefits will be short lived, since the existence of that road will open the way to even more density and development, until the situation returns to the misery they endure today and worse.  They too, are about to offer millions of tax dollars on the altar of road construction which will quickly consume even more of their substance in a loop from which there is no credible exit.

Gaithersburg and Rockville will suffer as the southern end of M83 will have to be rebuilt to accommodate the traffic we’re about to pour onto it, not to mention millions more in parking garages if any of the “connectivity to Metro” will work.   Remember: even though the Corridor Cities Transitway is also in plan, it will have no impact on the need or use of M83 Extended in any form, at least according to the zampolits running this operation.

Within a year or so of its opening, M-83 extended will be as much of a nightmare as anything that preceded it, but development will have moved on, the county will have opened new tax mines in the form of shiny new subdivisions, and the bulldozing and redevelopment of Montgomery Village into a new revenue source and even more supine polity will be well on the way.

And the game will continue:  the County will continue to pretend that “developers” are responsible for the infrastructure costs of new communities, while bankruptcy and other means assure that the real net cost is where it was all along – with the taxpayers.   The show will go on,  many “leaders” will posture and the county’s citizens will pay double and triple to clean up the mess.

The “Frakking” of political opposition [in both senses of the word] means we are to be burdened with hundreds of millions of ultimately wasted tax dollars and no credible way to stop the tarmac from metastasizing.  What will be sacrificed to keep the concrete flowing?   More schools, library hours, public safety?   The benefits of all this asphalt include more carbon emissions, more pollution,  more disturbed land, and more congestion.   Such a deal!

 I want to shout “We can do better!”  but then again, I am reminded that in a democracy, in the long haul, you get the government you deserve.

Mark Firley is a resident of Montgomery Village, former board member of Montgomery Village Foundation, member of the Upcounty Citizens’ Advisory Board, TAME Coalition contributor.

**portions edited by TAME

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