Midcounty Highway battles parkland at planning board -- Gazette.Net



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A Midcounty Highway extension could destroy a third of a Germantown forest’s valuable interior, parks department staff told the Montgomery County Planning Board Thursday afternoon.

The Midcounty Highway extension project, which will be funded by Montgomery County, is intended to relieve congestion on Md. 355, improve vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian access to employment centers, commercial districts and residential areas, and do so in an environmentally sensitive manner, according to the county’s 2010 study.

Alternatives 8A and 9A, which are construction options for the highway, would have the greatest impact on natural resources, according to the county’s study.

Montgomery County Department of Parks staff were most concerned with the impact either of those alternatives would have on the North Germantown Greenway on the south side of Brink Road near Wildcat Road. Building Alternatives 8A or 9A would bisect the thickly forested area, reducing the amount of “forest interior dwelling species habitat” for animals who can only live in the heart of a forest.

The immediate impact of building Alternatives 8A or 9A would mean the loss of about 60 acres, or about one third, of the forest’s interior, said Montgomery County Parks Department Natural Resources Manager Rob Gibbs.

If the county were to build a highway through the current habitat, the quality of the forest would be “greatly reduced,” Gibbs said.

The Greenway is one of 18 park parcels in the county, according to parks staff.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission must decide whether it will sell the land to Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation.

Montgomery County Planning Board Chairwoman Francoise Carrier said the decision can’t be taken lightly.

“It is a big deal to give up parkland,” Carrier said. “We are stewards of that parkland.”

Other options include reforesting open land or acquiring other comparable natural resources.

According to Jai Cole, the parks department’s principal natural resources specialist, any properties that could be acquired would have to be reforested at the cost of about $50,000 per acre.

Bill Gries, land acquisition section chief for the parks department, said the Greenway was acquired knowing there was a potential highway through it in the master plan.

“When we bought the property, we knew that sometime in the future we’d have to make a decision,” Gries said.

Montgomery County Planning Commissioner Marye Wells-Harley commented that the park was an important purchase.

“We chose that because of the value it adds to the park system,” she said.

Alternative 8 would build a new highway between the existing Midcounty Highway and Watkins Mill Road. This alternative would include a new four-lane highway from Snowden Farm Parkway to Watkins Mill Road, but leaves a gap between Watkins Mill Road and Montgomery Village Avenue to provide space to the Whetstone Run stream. Alternative 8 also has three divergent options for the north end of the highway. Each would end at Ridge Road, but one would enter the Agricultural Reserve, one would run along Ridge Road, and one, named 9A, would create a new highway.

Alternative 9 would create a new four-lane highway between the existing Midcounty Highway and Watkins Mill Road. At that point, the road’s three ending options are the same as those in Alternative 8.

Commissioner Amy Presley said the Greenway and the highway are both part of the master plan. Mitigating the highway’s impact on the park is important, she said, but should not be considered independently from the master plan.

Parks department staff and the planning board will tour the Greenway area in October before a decision is made.

scarignan@gazette.net