Updated: County Council Considering Diverting Funds From Montrose Parkway East Project
More than $ 120 million in funds could be redirected to other transportation projects or for school construction
Correction - 4:45 p.m., Feb. 24 - An earlier version of this article indicated the Montrose Parkway East project would extend from Veirs MIll Road to Parklawn Drive. In fact, it will extend from Veirs Mill Road to the existing Montrose Parkway junction with MD 355. The outdated maps that were formerly posted on the county's Department of Transportation website have been removed from the article below.
Several County Council members are considering diverting about $120 million in funds from the Montrose Parkway East road project to other transportation or schools projects after smart growth advocates and Forest Glen residents came out in force against the spending during a capital budget hearing earlier this month.
County Executive Ike Leggett in his fiscal 2019 capital budget proposal recommended the county fund about $124 million over the next six years to build the proposed four-lane parkway between Veirs Mill Road and the existing Montrose Parkway interchange with Rockville Pike in the North Bethesda area. 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. There's also a 107-foot pedestrian bridge carrying Rock Creek Trail over Montrose Parkway, according to the budget documents.
A map of the project from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation website from when the project was to be partly built by the state (the area west of Parklawn Drive). Now the county is proposing building the entire project.
The road project is expected to reduce traffic congestion in the area, according to the county. The project would require cutting through a section of Rock Creek Stream Valley Park. County officials first proposed the roadway in the 1992 master plan for the area, but the funding to build it has been delayed.
During the hearing earlier this month, several residents and transit advocates urged the council not to provide the funding.
“We ask the council to delay expensive or outdated projects like the Montrose Parkway East and invest in projects like a second entrance at the Forest Glen Metro station or the White Flint Metro station,” Peter Tomao, the Montgomery County advocacy manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, told the council.
Dan Reed, who was representing the Action Committee for Transit, said he was concerned road projects such as Montrose Parkway East take away funds from efforts to make neighborhoods more walkable.
“We could do so many better things with that money,” Reed said.
The Forest Glen residents, many who live on the east side of Georgia Avenue, testified that crossing the roadway to get to the Metro station is dangerous and they avoid doing it, even though they live close to the station.
“I was especially appalled by the proposal to build Montrose Parkway East,” Forest Glen resident Alison Gillespie said. “That parkway would cut through parkland next to Rock Creek and seems to go against every stated smart growth goal the county has set for the last 20 years.”
Many Forest Glen residents said crossing Georgia Avenue at Forest Glen Road (pictured) is dangerous and requested a second entrance built on the east side of Georgia Avenue to avoid having to make the crossing. Via Google Maps
Now council members Marc Elrich, George Leventhal, Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner said Wednesday they’re looking to use those funds for other projects.
Elrich sent an email to his colleagues after the public hearing suggesting that the council use the money to increase funding for school construction and to build a new Forest Glen Metro entrance, and for other transportation projects in the county.
On Wednesday, Elrich said the school system’s construction plan covers expected increases in enrollment, but doesn’t address school overcrowding or the backlog of proposed projects.
“We really need to deal with class-size growth,” Elrich said.
Roger Berliner, the chair of the council’s transportation committee, said Montrose Parkway East could be needed in the future to handle traffic as the White Flint area develops, but he doesn’t believe it’s needed now.
The transportation committee is scheduled to examine the funding for the parkway at its March 8 meeting. Council members Tom Hucker and Nancy Floreen are also on the committee.
“I believe it is likely the committee will be recommending deferring moving forward on Montrose Parkway East at this moment in time,” Berliner said. “If Amazon were to come to the areas where we put forward, that would definitely have an impact—it would become a much higher priority at that juncture.”
Officials have told Bethesda Beat the county pitched the White Flint area to Amazon for the company’s second headquarters, although the county has not formally confirmed that’s the case. Berliner said if Amazon were to choose the county, then perhaps the council would consider funding the parkway sooner. He also noted the state has proposed $2 billion in transportation improvements if the company picks Montgomery.
County Council President Hans Riemer said he supports redirecting the funds for the parkway to projects such as a second entrance at the White Flint Metro station and building bike lanes in White Flint.
“I think that Montrose Parkway East is premature,” Riemer said. “I think it is designed to serve development that doesn’t yet exist.”
Council member George Leventhal also said he was receptive to the concerns expressed by residents at the hearing.
“At our public hearing we heard from a lot of folks who want to divert that money for other worthy purposes,” Leventhal said. “We did not hear from people expressing support for Montrose Parkway East.”
He added that he supports moving forward with building a second entrance to the Forest Glen Metro station on the east side of Georgia Avenue.
Floreen said Wednesday she is opposed to diverting the funds for the parkway.
“I think it’s outrageous frankly,” Floreen said. “Road money is an easy target for people. Of course, we’d rather fund schools. If we didn’t have to fund anything else, all we’d do is fund schools. But road construction gets the short shrift. When people complain about congestion in the Rockville and North Bethesda area—blame the County Council.”