The debate over building Montrose Parkway East has been settled—at least for this year.
On Tuesday the Montgomery County Council unanimously agreed to a compromise proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett that would delay by one year the start of construction on the road to be built between Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike.
Council members were previously proposing delaying construction by about three years to free up money for other projects community members had requested.
The one-year delay from Leggett’s initial proposed construction schedule will enable the project to be redesigned to incorporate “better pedestrian and bicycle facilities and connections,” according to a memo Leggett sent to council President Hans Riemer Monday.
Also, deferring the road project will allow the county to achieve about $33 million in savings to Leggett’s proposed six-year capital budget. Leggett also noted the council will defer adding two lanes to Goshen Road South in Gaithersburg until after 2024, which will save about $28 million more.
Together, deferral of the two projects will provide $61 million the council will redirect to other projects, mostly mass transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements as well as road projects in Burtonsville and Clarksburg. The council is working through Leggett’s $4.5 billion six-year capital budget proposal this month.
The council also approved Tuesday Leggett’s recommendation to reallocate $20 million of the redirected road funds to Montgomery County Public Schools for school construction and other capital improvement needs.
Leggett wrote that he supported council members’ plans to reallocate the remaining $41 million in funds to the following projects:
- Design and initial construction of Forest Glen Metro station access improvements;
- Design of bus rapid transit on Veirs Mill Road;
- Planning a new bus rapid transit system for New Hampshire Avenue;
- Begin making progress on adding a new entrance at the White Flint Metro station;
- Buying land and beginning the designing of the Burtonsville Access Road;
- Making investments on new infrastructure in the bicycle and pedestrian priority areas;
- Buying land and conducting design work for the first phase of extending Observation Drive in the Clarksburg area; and
- Planning for Dale Drive safety improvements in Silver Spring.
Leggett had previously opposed deferring the $124 million he budgeted to construct Montrose Parkway East from fiscal 2021 to fiscal 2024. His compromise plan calls for beginning construction instead in fiscal 2022. He said he was concerned that delaying the road’s construction could impact economic development in the White Flint area—a priority for the county and one that officials have said the county pitched to Amazon for the company’s second headquarters project.
The county is among 20 jurisdictions in North America competing for the tech giant’s new headquarters and the 50,000 estimated jobs expected to come with it.
“I believe these modifications to the [Capital Improvements Program] will keep the county on-track to meet the transportation needs associated with the economic development potential of White Flint, while allowing the county to also address important needs,” Leggett wrote.
The county’s plans for Montrose Parkway East call for building a four-lane parkway between Veirs Mill Road and the existing Montrose Parkway interchange with Rockville Pike. The project would include a 230-foot bridge over the CSX railroad tracks and Nebel Street, a 198-foot bridge over Parklawn Drive and a 350-foot bridge over Rock Creek as well as an at-grade tie-in to Veirs Mill Road. A 107-foot pedestrian bridge carrying Rock Creek Trail over Montrose Parkway also is planned, according to the budget documents.
The plan for Montrose Parkway East via Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
The council’s acceptance of the compromise ended a testy debate that previously divided the council over whether it should fund the road project or instead use the money for other transportation projects.
Council member Nancy Floreen, who lobbied the council not to defer the funds for Montrose Parkway East, ultimately voted to approve the compromise. However, she criticized the decision to defer the funds for expanding Goshen Road and said the council needs to pay more attention to the transportation needs of the upcounty area.
Council member George Leventhal expressed his displeasure with three of his colleagues—Riemer, Roger Berliner and Tom Hucker—who pitched a number of alternative transportation projects in a memo to the council earlier this year. He said the three council members should have been more cautious not to “dictate” to the council how transportation money is allocated.
Hucker responded to Leventhal’s comments by saying the projects pitched by the three council members had long been debated in the county and represented what residents had requested in public hearings.
Berliner said during a previous council debate he understood Gov. Larry Hogan was proposing funding for Montrose Parkway East as part of the $2 billion in transportation improvements the state is planning as part of its efforts to woo Amazon. On Tuesday, he declined to say if the county can revise its funding schedule for the road if Amazon chooses to locate in the county.
“We will deal with that when the time comes,” Berliner said. The company plans to make a decision later this year.
Several residents and representatives from transit groups requested during a February public hearing on the capital budget proposal that the council defer the Montrose Parkway East funding and instead provide money to other projects—particularly building a new entrance to the Forest Glen Metro station. Forest Glen residents who live on the east side of Georgia Avenue said crossing the busy road to get to the station is difficult and prevents them from using Metro regularly.
Federal Realty has also been lobbying for the second White Flint Metro entrance as a way to improve access to the transit system near its Pike & Rose development.
Riemer said the council’s lively debate enabled the legislative body to reach an acceptable agreement.
“If we hadn’t had a little friction and a lot of discussion, we wouldn’t have had the same proposal before us,” Riemer said. “These are great projects that need to move forward.”