Route 32 role in connector is opposed Transit chief rejects P.G. senator's proposal for intercounty link

Dorman not dissuaded

His proposal would redirect road from Laurel to Columbia

January 28, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The state's top transportation official has dealt a setback to an effort by two Prince George's County politicians to build the Intercounty Connector, a long-planned controversial road project designed to ease suburban Washington traffic, through rural western Howard County.

"Connecting an ICC into Howard County would not relieve existing east-west Montgomery County roads," David L. Winstead, Maryland transportation secretary, wrote in a Jan. 16 letter to state Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard County Republican. "Expanding the study area to include connections to Md. 32 would not serve the purpose of the ICC."

The Intercounty Connector -- first talked about in 1953 -- has run into opposition along its original route through Montgomery County between Gaithersburg and Laurel since the state began buying land for it in 1984.

Last month, Laurel Mayor Frank P. Casula and state Sen. Arthur Dorman, a Prince George's Democrat who represents parts of Laurel, suggested that the state study the possibility of connecting Route 32 on the western edge of Columbia to Gaithersburg with a 13-mile highway. The estimated costs of building this road run as high as $1 billion.

Winstead's letter stating that his agency has no plans to include Route 32 in the study for the Intercounty Connector pleased Howard County legislators, who opposed the idea.

"This is very good news for the citizens of Howard County," said Madden, who also represents Laurel. "I'm happy that the department agreed with me that the problems of east-west movement in Montgomery County should be solved in Montgomery County."

Added Del. John S. Morgan, a Republican who represents southern Howard and Laurel: "I think Senator Dorman was way off-base on this one. Any highway engineer can discern that this is unacceptable. I'm glad to see that Secretary Winstead agreed with his engineers."

But the letter has not stopped Dorman, who said he will submit a bill in the General Assembly asking state highway officials to include Route 32 in their study.

"My only recourse is to put it out there," Dorman said. "I will work for its passage."

Casula did not return phone messages left at his office.

The proposal includes running the highway through the Howard County communities of Clarksville and Highland before crossing the Patuxent River into Montgomery County.

In all earlier plans for a six-lane highway, it connected Laurel with Gaithersburg near the Interstate 270 high-technology business corridor.

Supporters of the road say it is needed to ease congestion on the Capital Beltway and help check the defection of high-tech businesses to Northern Virginia.

Dorman argued that a link between Gaithersburg and Laurel would harm established residential neighborhoods and commercial areas in and around Laurel. He also said the state could save money by using the existing Route 32 as part of the connector.

"Plus, [Route 32] has four lanes there now and needs only two more for an ICC," he said. "Just as [Howard is] complaining that they don't want to be forced to relieve Montgomery County's problems, we don't think Prince George's County should be forced to either."

But Peter J. Oswald, president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association in Fulton and a slow-growth advocate, warned that a highway would encourage residential development in that now mostly rural area of Howard.

He said that he and other residents will oppose any measure drafted by Dorman.

"Senator Dorman has a good environmental record, so I'd be surprised that he would be pushing this," Oswald said. "But we will rally against this."

Madden said he doubted such legislation would be approved.

"This makes it extremely difficult, with the department's opposition to expand the study zone, to succeed," Madden said. "This hopefully will nip the threat to Howard County commuters in the bud."

If the resolution is passed by the Senate, it would need House approval -- something that Morgan doesn't foresee.

"I can state unequivocally that Senator Dorman's bill would get killed if it got to the House," Morgan said. "In no case would Senator Dorman be successful."

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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