The adoption of a landmark comprehensive plan for Charles County’s future has put the brakes on a proposed highway that would have irreversibly harmed the valuable Mattawoman Creek ecosystem and the Chesapeake Bay. Prior drafts of the plan included the road, which threatened the loss of sensitive wetlands and forests that filter pollution. But in the final version, Charles County will protect these places and focus on providing better choices for getting around: accessible, walkable destinations close to home, with transit for commuters.
Earlier Proposal Rejected as Too Damaging
Moving forward with the Cross County Connector (CCC) would have been tragic. As proposed, the seven-mile highway would have connected the malls of Waldorf with the rural community of Bryans Road on the western edge of the county. It would have crossed through the heart of the Mattawoman Creek, significantly increasing the amount of impervious surfaces in the watershed, inducing low-density development and forever changing the landscape in what the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has called one of the most productive watersheds in the Chesapeake region.
Attempts by former County Commissioners to build the road were blocked by state and federal officials. Both the Maryland Department of the Environment and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers rejected the county's earlier proposal for the Cross County Connector as too damaging to the Mattawoman. Nevertheless, some local officials continued to fund studies and make the CCC a central part of their plans for growth.
The current Board of Commissioner’s decision to choose a different path is a major victory for the Bay and all who have worked tirelessly for a more sustainable future in Charles County.
(Click for larger image)
The Opposite of Smart Growth
For years, CBF has worked with concerned citizens and local and state government to manage growth and development in a way that protects our natural resources while providing opportunities for development in areas best suited for growth. CBF and our partners, Smarter Growth Alliance of Charles County, believe the Cross County Connector—which would destroy many acres of forest and wetlands, and stimulate sprawl-type, low-density development—is the opposite of how we should be managing growth in the 21st century in Maryland.
Charles County, one of the fastest growing jurisdictions in Maryland, has a population of 145,000. County officials predict the number will grow by nearly 50 percent by 2030. Since the 1990's, county officials have been directing most of this growth into a development district that takes up much of the northern section of the county. This designated growth area is larger than Washington D.C. and in a largely forested area that serves as a natural filter for pollutants that would otherwise run into Mattawoman Creek. The creek is one of the most important breeding grounds for fish in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Cross County Connector project was developed to accommodate this growth with a highway connecting state Route 210 and state Route 301. The County's own documents report that it would "facilitate" 1,113 residential units at a density of about one unit per acre and add other development that is "dependent" upon construction of the road. The actual number of new housing units in the area may be much higher, reflecting the southward march of sprawl from suburban Washington.
The highway had been in the county plans for decades but times have changed. When county planners conceived the Cross County Connector, the concept of Smart Growth (building in designated areas that have infrastructure to support growth while avoiding and protecting sensitive natural resources) did not exist. Gas prices were well below what they are today, and air and water pollution and global climate change were much less of a concern. The road was an anachronism, a hold-over from a different time. Now, Charles County is planning for a tomorrow where clean water and abundant forests maintain a high quality of life.