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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stupid Growth: The CCC

When the Arc and the Dove landed on the shores of the lower Potomac in 1634, Southern Maryland was as pristine as it had ever been. Beautiful estuaries, diverse flora and fauna,
and verdant landscapes have always highlighted the area, and they no doubt helped contribute to the success of the first European colony in Maryland.

Most recently, parts of Charles, Calvert, and Saint Mary's County have come to look more like the off-the-highway towns I came to know in the remote parts of the Midwest back in my Army days. Car culture, big boxes, and inefficient land use has taken its toll in places like Waldorf and Dunkirk, and the effects are spreading. Vital wetlands in the Potomac and Patuxent watersheds are bearing the brunt of the ecological damage.

And now a new highway is moving forward.

The Charles County Connector. Consider it the baby brother of the ICC. And thanks to the big brother, you're not likely to hear anything about it. I myself have had a difficult time finding up-to-date information on this highway, but I managed to dig up an old National Environmental Policy Act report (warning: PDF).

I first heard of this freeway through a colleague of mine who is a member of the Maryland Ornithological Society. The group is of course concerned about the outright destruction the vital wetlands of the Mattawoman Creek as well as increasing impervious surfaces that will feed polluted water into the wetlands, home to scores of species of Maryland birds. These concerns are shared directly by the Mattawoman Watershed Society, who is urging people to write the governor in opposition of the plan. In all, the four-mile, $60m highway would require the destruction of 74 acres of forest and 7.5 acres of wetland. Much of the surrounding area is slated for development upon completion of the new road.

Tim Wheeler at the Baltimore Sun's Bay and Environment blog points out that this deleterious construction would be carried out under the guise of the Maryland Smart Growth initiatives. This to me is incredibly bizarre and most frustrating. Obviously, keeping development in the northern portion of Charles County makes sense for a number of reasons. It is closer to DC, there are larger towns (Waldorf, LaPlata) that are already somewhat developed, and there are ample road and utility connections already present. But smart growth by definition would dictate that development would take place in and around those towns, not in brand new developments around them. Smart growth implies LESS use of the automobile, quite contrary to the notion of constructing a highway.

Granted I have only skimmed the NEPA report, but nowhere have I seen any plans for sidewalks, trails, or transit along the highway. Of course, If they are there, they may get canceled for "environmental impact" reasons like the ironic fate of the ICC bike trail.

For those that argue that they need the highway to alleviate traffic in the area, consider the following analogy: building highways to alleviate traffic is like scratching poison Ivy to get rid of the irritation. It will be better for a short while, but ultimately you are only spreading the problem. Perhaps before Charles County partitions and destroys its most valuable resource, denser construction and transit around Waldorf ought to be considered. That's real smart growth. And if they do, perhaps Southern Maryland will keep a bit more of its idyllic charm from getting eaten up by cul-de-sacs and parking lots. And perhaps my friend from work will be able to spot a common snipe on the Mattawoman for years to come.

6 comments:

Douglas A. Willinger said...

"For those that argue that they need the highway to alleviate traffic in the area, consider the following analogy: building highways to alleviate traffic is like scratching poison Ivy to get rid of the irritation. It will be better for a short while, but ultimately you are only spreading the problem"

Please then explain why north-south I-87 in NY's Westchester County remains uncongested, while NY's east-west LIE I-495 is usually congested? Both are 6 lane freeways built in the 1950s, the latter which was reconstructed recently with a 4th lane per direction. Both are radial suburban freeways towards NYC.

It is very disappointing to see your otherwise excellent blog regurgitate sloganeering doctrine over an analysis accounting for densities, placement of interchanges and alternatives.

Dave Murphy said...

Douglas,

I can't speak to interstate highways in suburban New York, nor I do I see how they are relevant to a new state highway in Charles County.

I consider myself to be very pro highway, however the lack of a highway is not what will cause future traffic issues in northern Charles County. It is in fact the sprawl-type developments that will be thrown down in the wake of the new highway that will be creating traffic problems.

I don't consider it sloganeering doctrine to discredit useless transportation corridors that might undermine future and more wisely planned highways from being constructed.

If I haven't clearly stated my position yet, I ought to say that I am largely for many smart highway projects so long as they do not partition communities and are economically feasible. For example, I was for the ICC for years before funding became such an issue, and even now I'm glad to see the highway go up, as it will help stave off greenfield development in western Montgomery County and encourage denser development in areas that are already built out.

All this highway is doing is promoting unnecessary greenfield development in a region far away from job centers and completely unlinked by transit. Any traffic easing it does will be very short lived, and it will ultimately make MD 5 and MD 210 more nightmarish during rush hour.

Froggie said...

Seems to me that a Waldorf Bypass for US 301 would be a better use of road funds than this idea.

Douglas A. Willinger said...

David-

You might be right about the CCC, which I know little about; rather I should have specified about *generalized* anti-highway sloganeering.

Is the CCC to be surrounded with dwellings 1 per half acre, or 16 townhouses per acre and nowhere near anything to walk or bike to?

Please check out the examples of NY's I-87 (Westchester County) and I-495 (Long Island Expressway) on Google to see the variables between these two 1950s era 6 lane freeways/contexts.

BTW- speaking of highways what about the imminent killing of the eastern portion of the DC SE Freeway despite the topographical reality that it could be easily decked over with a slow speed boulevard atop, rather then simply placing that traffic all on the surface.

Check out the "Middle Anacostia Transportation Study" cross sectiosn to see that.

Froggie-

I suspect you are right. From my knowledge, I favor an existing alignment freewayification of 301 with the more downtown area segment depressed and designed to be covered.

Dave Murphy said...

I certainly don't think Waldorf merits a covered freeway, but perhaps a by-pass ought to be studied.

Douglas- there is nothing there. They are building the highway to promote greenfield development of the woodlands there, which makes no sense whatsoever other than to pad some developer's wallets. It's the same nonsense all over PG county.

As for the sloganeering, I stand by my stance that highways should not be intended as a means to alleviate traffic. I happen to think that the primary goal of a highway is high speed long distance or through travel, certainly not traffic relief. But nonetheless, I ought to have clarified that that analogy is most applicable when the highway built is use to facilitate the construction of greenfield development.

Douglas A. Willinger said...

Agreed,though there may be safety benefits, especially without a moratorium upon such real estate development.

As for Waldof, I feel that a depressed existing alignment highway with short sections covered, but with some additional segments designed to be covered later, perhaps with air rights development, making a more compact footprint then a bypass.

All of us must write against the destruction of the eastern portion of the SE Freeway (an important link, particularly in your proposal). Converting it to a boulevard shall place all of the vehicular traffic upon the surface, which is senseless when there's an existing freeway roadbed that the topography allows to be covered without extensive regrading as with this highway west of the 14th Street Bridges.