Red ribbons mark one proposed path for an extension of Midcounty Highway,  in the woods at the Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Germantown in 2010. The recently chosen route would run adjacent to the wooded retreat center. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Montgomery County transportation officials have chosen a route for a controversial four-lane road planned between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg that is designed to ease traffic on heavily congested Route 355 and other roads east of Interstate 270.

After a decade of studying 11 possible alignments, the county’s Department of Transportation opted for the one that has been in the county’s transportation master plan since the 1960s. The alignment chosen would extend Midcounty Highway about 5.7 miles to the northwest from its intersection with Montgomery Village Avenue. The new road would cross Brink Road and end at Ridge Road, passing through Gaithersburg, Montgomery Village and Germantown. (See map below.) The project is commonly referred to as M83 or the Midcounty Highway extension.

County transportation officials have said the road was long-planned to accommodate the crush of traffic that planners knew would follow as subdivisions and shopping centers popped up in northern Montgomery. Development was allowed to occur assuming that the road would one day be built, county planners have said.

The option chosen is estimated to cost $357 million, but the county has not budgeted any money for its design or construction, said spokeswoman Esther Bowring. Before construction could begin, the road plan also would have to pass a federal review of its environmental and community impacts.

As with any major transportation project, the Midcounty Highway extension is controversial. Some residents and smart-growth advocates say the road-building money would be better spent on a bus rapid transit system to reduce traffic by allowing people to forego driving. Other critics said it would cause too much environmental damage and run too close to neighborhoods.

The chosen alignment would run along the edge of the Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Germantown, where about 1,200 people seek silent day-long and weekend spiritual retreats.

A four-lane road built just beyond peaceful woods and a pond that retreat goers seek out for quiet reflection would “seriously compromise the retreat experience here,” said Nat Reid, the center’s director.

Reid said the center, which hosts retreats of all denominations, has been there since 1953.

The Coalition For Smarter Growth also has bashed the idea, saying the road would be too expensive, unnecessary and harmful to neighborhoods, parks, streams, wetlands and forests.

“We see their selected alignment as one of the worst options and most damaging to neighborhoods and the environment,” said Stewart Schwartz, the coalition’s executive director, in a news release.

After reviewing the alignment, Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the county council could budget money for the road’s design, defer a decision on funding, or take the road out of the county’s master plan, Bowring said.

Patrick Lacefield, a Leggett spokesman, said the county executive opposes the road project because of its cost. However, he said, at the council’s request, Leggett forwarded the report on the chosen alignment to state and federal agencies for review.

 


The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has chosen this alignment as the best option for a new four-lane road between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg. (Montgomery DOT)