After heated debates and discussion, the County Council on Tuesday finally reached an agreement on what to do about the proposed Montrose Parkway East road project – delay it for at least year.
The compromise keeps the idea of the project alive while pushing the decision to build down the road. Although it has been on county planners’ minds for years, the project became more significance after Amazon listed Montgomery County – specifically a site close to the proposed road near the former White Flint mall – on a list of possible destinations for its proposed second headquarters.
The proposed four-lane road would connect the Rockville Pike/Montrose Road interchange to Veirs Mill Road, and is seen by some as a way for Montgomery County to improve traffic and lure Amazon by showing a willingness to invest in major transportation projects. But County Council members who voted against the project, lead by Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), said the funds for the project would be better spent on other, more pressing transportation projects, and that building the road should be conditioned on Amazon selecting the White Flint site for a second headquarters.
“Jeez, from what Mr. [Craig] Rice and I are used to in Annapolis this isn’t sausage-making this is organic veggie burger-making,” said Council member Tom Hucker (D-5), a former member of the House of Delegates. “Look the CIP [Capital Improvements Program] is full of old projects that might have been good ideas in the past, but no longer reflect our priorities.”
Tuesday’s compromise frees up $61 million in the Capital Improvements Program budget for other transportation projects, including design and planning for the County’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit projects and access to the Forest Glen Metro station. $20 million will also be allocated to Montgomery County Public Schools.
While the Council’s vote was unanimous it did not look like that would be the case after the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee initially voted down the proposal after a contentious debate, but County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) offered a compromise that would delay the project one year, instead of three years as some Council members wanted to do.
While Council member Nancy Floreen (D-at large) ultimately voted for the delay, she spent much of her time arguing for the proposed road, noting that the Montgomery County has neglected transportation infrastructure upgrades in that region, and that the failure to invest in the road didn’t make for good optics with Amazon, which is still considering the destination of its new headquarters.
“I just say for the record and for future councils and certainly for Mr. Rice and Mr. Katz (Sidney Katz) and hopefully people who get elected, please start worrying about the rest of the County, because that is not happening in the transportation budget,” said Floreen, who is not running for re-election in 2018.
Hucker, who is against the planned road, had a much more optimistic view of the deal, saying the delay was good thing because the project was outdated. Hucker said the project was originally planned years ago, long before the Council decided to prioritize reducing greenhouse gas emission and pedestrian safety making the Montrose Parkway East project outdated.
“Times change, priorities change,” Hucker said.