Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) visited Montgomery Village Wednesday to speak with the community about an array of upcoming county projects, but one particular issue dominated discussion: the proposed extension to Midcounty Highway.
Just over a dozen residents and a handful of county and state officials attended the meeting, which took place at Watkins Mill High School. When Rice opened the floor for questions and comments after his presentation, residents made it clear they were not happy about the proposed construction.
The project 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.
Eleven options were initially presented for the county-funded project, but that number has been narrowed to six: Alternatives 1, 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9. The county’s recommended alternative is 9. Rice said that he supports that path the most because it follows the master plan for the area, but that the council will wait for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to give their recommendations.
Under Alternative 9, the county would build a new four-lane highway between the existing Midcounty Highway and Watkins Mill Road. At that point, three different end options would connect the highway to Ridge Road.
“I feel as though the master plan route, number nine, the one that has been in the master plan that many people have known about for the longest period of time, represents one that I feel does not disrupt our planning process as much as some of the others do,” Rice said.
Residents, however, disagreed. Among their chief concerns were increased traffic and negative environmental impacts. One resident even described the future expansion as an “environmental holocaust.”
Montgomery Village homeowner Richard Wilder said he worried about the detrimental health affects that air pollution stemming from the new highway could have on children who attend Watkins Mill Elementary School, located close to the Alternative 9 path.
“There is a well documented study by some Johns Hopkins scientists about the risks to young children’s lungs and neurological areas due to being within 500 feet of a major highway,” he said.
Wilder also said that the road would bring more traffic to Montgomery Village, an area that already deals with congested roadways.
“We feel we’re taking the brunt of the traffic,” he said.
While Rice expressed a need to provide some type of infrastructure to meet the demand of newer development.
“We allowed for those homes to be built and now we have to come up with a connection, whatever that may be,” he said. “We have to now play catch-up. We are getting closer to keeping our infrastructure in tune with development.”