This 2009 photo shows Connecticut Avenue (MD 185) over Matthew Hanson State Park. This overpass crosses the right-of-way for what was to be the Outer Beltway and later the Rockville Facility before it was canceled formally in 1989. Cloverleaf ramps stubs on Connecticut Avenue also reveal plans for the shelved freeway. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
PLANNED AS PART OF THE OUTER BELTWAY: In 1950, officials in Maryland devised plans for a "Cross-County Loop," a controlled-access highway that was to link US 240 (now I-270) in Montgomery County with the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295) in Prince George's County. It was the direct predecessor to today's Intercounty Connector and a springboard for a more ambitious highway proposal.
As plans were being accelerated for the original Capital Beltway (I-495 and I-95), the National Capital Park and Planning Commission announced in 1953 a preliminary 120-mile second beltway that was to loop through the outer suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. The Outer Beltway--as it was called then--was to enter Maryland from a new Potomac River crossing at Great Falls and continue east through the Montgomery County communities of Potomac, Rockville, and Silver Spring; then loop southeast into Prince George's County through Beltsville, Laurel, and Bowie; and back southwest through Upper Marlboro, Clinton, and Fort Washington before crossing the Potomac River again on a new bridge to Virginia.
Unlike the Capital Beltway, the Outer Beltway was not part of the Interstate highway system and thus was ineligible for 90 percent Federal financing. This meant Maryland and Virginia had to pay half the cost of the Outer Beltway. Plans for the Outer Beltway were stalled as Maryland and Virginia officials sought to accelerate completion of the Capital Beltway and other higher-priority Interstate highway projects.
Once the Capital Beltway was opened to traffic in 1964, officials shifted their attention back to the Outer Beltway. Around this time, citizen groups became more active in opposing highway projects; they had prevented construction of the Northwest Freeway--what would have been an extension of I-270 into the District--along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor.
In 1965, local groups petitioned the Maryland State Roads Commission (SRC) to move the route of the beltway north about five miles such that the Potomac River crossing would be at Block House Point instead of Great Falls. Jerome Wolff, chairman of the SRC, said the state took "a dim view" of changing route plans once they are settled, but Walter Addison, the head of the SRC's planning division, acknowledged the benefits of changing this alignment since the narrowest point between the Capital and Outer beltways (in Rockville) were only two and one-half miles apart, not enough to provide ample freeway spacing.
Even with the route of the Outer Beltway in flux, the SRC spent $3 million on rights-of-way along the original alignment throughout the 1960's, and even spent $500,000 to build a six-lane bridge to carry Connecticut Avenue (MD 185) over the proposed beltway in Silver Spring in 1968. An assistant engineer for the SRC said "some road" would go under Connecticut Avenue even if it were not the Outer Beltway.
RECAST AS A FEEDER TO THE OUTER BELTWAY: Community groups finally succeeded in 1970 with the SRC's decision to shift the Outer Beltway to a more northerly alignment between Gaithersburg and Silver Spring; the beltway would continue on its original alignment east of Silver Spring. With the Outer Beltway planned to handle through traffic, the SRC planned a second east-west freeway--the 10-mile-long "Rockville Facility" (originally called the "Rockville Freeway")--for local traffic that was to connect Falls Road (MD 189) just west of I-270 in Potomac with the Outer Beltway near New Hampshire Avenue (MD 650) in Silver Spring.
In 1972, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA)--the successor to the SRC--approved the route for the Rockville Facility, which at the time had a cost estimate of $40 million. The original plans for the freeway called for an interchange in the area of Indian Spring Country Club for the Northern Parkway, an extended version of the existing Sligo Creek Parkway that was to have been upgraded to controlled-access standard. Later that year, the SHA canceled plans for the Northern Parkway, along with its feeder route to the south, the North Central Freeway (unbuilt I-70S / I-270). According to the SHA records, the Rockville Facility had no known route designation.
The Rockville Facility was as controversial as the Outer Beltway--later truncated to the Intercounty Connector (MD 200)--proved to be; only two years after the SHA announced route plans, the cost estimate for the Rockville Facility had doubled to $80 million taking into account higher construction and land acquisition costs. Public hearings on the freeway continued for more than a decade, but there was nothing to show for these discussions.
In 1983, the SHA developed a draft environmental impact statement for the Rockville Facility. The freeway received the full support of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, but by the middle of the decade, the size and scope of the Rockville Facility began to be scaled down. At this time, Montgomery County officials proposed a two-lane "Montrose Parkway" alternative along the length of the Rockville Facility right-of-way. The "super-2" parkway, which include bicycle and pedestrian paths in its design and at the time was estimated to cost $90 million, would have required re-channeling about 500 feet of Turkey Branch.
This 1970 map shows the general location of the Rockville Facility (Freeway) in relation to the rerouted Outer Beltway, the northern arc of which eventually was built as I-370 and the Intercounty Connector (MD 200). (Map by Joseph Mastrangelo, The Washington Post.)
By the end of the 1980's, it had become clear that the Rockville Facility never would be built to its full extent as the final environmental impact statement rejected the full freeway alternative. In 1988, Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer recommended that the Rockville Facility right-of-way between Veirs Mills Road (MD 586) and MD 650 be used for a park; although Kramer believed the freeway would relieve congestion, he argued benefit would be more than offset by community disruption. Conversion of the Rockville Facility right-of-way to parkland was not a new idea; community groups had explored this alternative as early as 1971.
In 1989, the SHA transferred most of the Rockville Facility right-of-way to the state's Department of Natural Resources for a new state park; the corridor park, which runs from MD 586 northeast to MD 97 (Georgia Avenue), was named after Matthew Henson, the first black explorer to reach the North Pole.
MONTROSE PARKWAY: SON OF THE ROCKVILLE FACILITY? Construction began in 2004 on a 1.8-mile-long section of the Montrose Parkway from the intersection of Montrose Road and Tildenwood Drive east to "old" Old Georgetown Road just west of MD 355 (Rockville Pike). This section of parkway, which was completed in 2008, included an upgrade of existing Montrose Road to six lanes from Tildenwood Drive west to I-270. The $68 million cost was borne equally by the state and Montgomery County.
Two additional sections remain as follows:
A grade-separated interchange is planned with MD 355 to replace the existing intersection between MD 355, Montrose Road, and MD 183 (Randolph Road). The $47 million interchange is part of a $100 million plan to upgrade MD 355.
East of MD 355, the Montrose Parkway is planned to veer north of MD 183 along a park right-of-way that had been reserved for the Rockville Facility decades earlier. The terminus of the parkway is planned for MD 586, and there are no plans to extend the parkway into Matthew Henson State Park. This section is being financed entirely by the county; no cost estimate has been provided except for $31 million to be spent on ancillary land acquisitions.
Construction of both sections had been scheduled to begin in 2010, but controversy surrounding land acquisition and potential loss of homes and parkland has delayed construction.
This 2009 photo shows the Connecticut Avenue (MD 185) overpass from another angle. Today a multi-use trail winds through Matthew Hanson State Park along where the six-lane Rockville Facility was to have been built. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
SOURCES: "Parkway Plan Is Stepped Up in Maryland" by Laurence Stern, The Washington Post (1/24/1958); "Buy Now, Officials Urge, For Future Land Routes," The Washington Post (1/29/1958); "New Routes Proposed for Beltway in County," The Washington Post (8/07/1965); "Connecticut Avenue Overpass Started," The Washington Post (7/18/1967); "Outer Belt Shift Given More Study" by Jack Eisen, The Washington Post (10/26/1967); "Planned Maryland Outer Belt Route Will Stand" by Thomas W. Lippman, The Washington Post (1/23/1968); "Rockville Freeway Plans Stir Opposition" by Edward Walsh, The Washington Post (1/28/1972); "Montgomery Council, Senate Delegation Ask Freeway Delay" by Edward Walsh, The Washington Post (2/06/1972); "Rockville Freeway Is Off for Year" by Douglas Watson, The Washington Post (2/15/1972); "Road Builders See No Letup" by Jack Eisen, The Washington Post (6/06/1974); "Public Debates Roads Connecting Montgomery and PG" by Paul Hodge, The Washington Post (10/11/1979); "A $16 Million Road to Nowhere" by Elsa L. Walsh, The Washington Post (12/10/1981); "Debate Surrounds Connector Highway Proposal" by R.H. Melton, The Washington Post (9/29/1983); "Panel Says Area Roads, Bridges Being Ignored" by Stephen J. Lynton, The Washington Post (11/20/1984); "Kramer Urges Making Park of Road Land" by Jo-Ann Armao, The Washington Post (12/13/1988); "City and Town Actions," The Washington Post (10/05/1989); "Montrose Parkway Faces Battle" by Amit R. Paley, The Washington Post (8/19/2004); "Montrose Parkway Is Moving Along," WTOP Radio (5/18/2007); HistoricAerials.com; Maryland State Highway Administration.