The Cross-County Connector

An egret stands sentinal in Mattawoman Creek. Photo copyright Krista Schlyer/iLCPAn egret stands sentinal in Mattawoman Creek. Photo copyright Krista Schlyer/iLCP

Four-Lane Highway Would Destroy Wetlands,
Encourage Sprawl

Charles County may once again be moving forward on the construction of a highway that would irreversibly harm a valuable ecosystem—the Mattawoman Creek—and the Bay, while setting a very poor precedent for managing growth in the 21st century. No concrete plans for the highway are yet on paper, but the county's proposed Comprehensive Plan calls for resurrecting the Cross County Connector (CCC). That would be tragic.

Earlier Proposal Rejected as Too Damaging

The county went down this path before, but was blocked. 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. 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.

Proposed location of Charles County Cross County ConnectorMap from 2009 showing the proposed Cross-County Connector. (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. Smarter Growth Alliance of Charles County feels 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 trying to direct 75 percent of this growth into a development district that takes up most 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 will "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 has 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 is an anachronism. The county needs to rethink where and how to grow given the new realities rapidly reshaping our world.

Smarter Growth Proposal Published

In 2009, the Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County published Trouble Ahead: Use Alternate Routes, a proposal for smart growth in Charles County, in opposition to the Cross County Connector. Read it now.

From the Bay Daily Blog

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