A highway whose time has come Intercounty Connector: Montgomery-Prince George's link would open employment area.

September 05, 1997

EAST IS EAST, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. Rudyard Kipling wrote that, but the bureaucrats and surveyors who laid out Maryland's highway system might as well have.

There are several major north-south arteries in the state, but few cut horizontally, besides Interstate 70. The Maryland grid is one Dwight Eisenhower could still love, with its '50s pattern of ring-roads around the major cities and spokes fanning out to suburbia. The system barely recognizes the sweeping changes in work and lifestyles that now link suburb to suburb.

Improvements in this regard are finally happening. The extension of Route 100 this summer provided Anne Arundel County with its first direct connection to Interstate 95. Plans to extend Route 32 will give Howard County greater access to I-70. The opening of I-68 in Western Maryland a few years ago brightened prospects for tourism and recreation development in that region.

Another key east-west link, the Intercounty Connector between Montgomery and Prince George's counties, is in the midst of a critical review. The idea of a limited access road tying I-270 and I-95 has been debated for three decades. The arguments in favor grow stronger.

The ICC is needed to relieve frightful congestion on the Capital Beltway. It would make Montgomery County, a hotbed for high-tech employment, more accessible to its residents as well as to workers living in Prince George's, Howard and Anne Arundel counties. It would also improve the competitiveness of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The lack of the ICC, in fact, impedes the ability of the Washington and Baltimore areas to operate as a common business market, as the federal government envisioned when it combined the two for statistical purposes.

There may at last be momentum for the $1 billion project. Much of the cost would be paid by the federal government. The concept has been supported by the governor, the Montgomery and Prince George's county executives and various chambers of commerce. Federal agencies have taken a dim view of an 18-mile route that would traverse streams, but a more northern path may be workable.

Parker F. Williams, administrator for the State Highway Administration, is due next month to issue an opinion crucial to the fate of the road. While hindsight has a way of making many government projects look ridiculous, the ICC keeps making more sense over time.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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