Glendening's move on ICC could prove costly at polls

March 22, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

PARRIS N. Glendening may have outsmarted himself. His decision to kill a long-debated highway designed to ease suburban Washington area traffic has kicked up a storm in an area absolutely critical to Mr. Glendening's re-election chances in November.

For 15 years, Mr. Glendening has backed the Intercounty Connector proposal that is supposed to link Gaithersburg, Rockville and northern Montgomery County to Prince George's and the southern tier of the Baltimore region. Suddenly, without any warning to local officials, he pulled the plug.

That won him the cheers of environmentalists who detest the ICC, or any major highway construction for that matter. Environmentalists are a key constituency of the governor's as he goes into his re-election mode.

But Mr. Glendening's decision has infuriated business leaders from both the Baltimore and Washington areas.

In some of the harshest language ever leveled against a Maryland governor by business groups, the Washington Board of Trade and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce jointly issued a statement saying they felt "betrayed and used," and that if Mr. Glendening wants to have "any chance of re-establishing your credibility on this issue, then drop this current fantasy."

Missing link

The fantasy the business groups derided is that somehow alternative transportation steps can replace the ICC -- that bikeways and buses and light-rail trains and better traffic signals at intersections can do the job. Hogwash.

As one prominent business leader put it, "If you can tell me how I can get from my office in Rockville to a meeting in Baltimore in a reasonable amount of time using mass transit, I want to know about it."

Local leaders were equally dismissive of the governor's abrupt flip-flop. A county official said he was "mystified" because "it's such a bad political move."

Killing any hope for a vital east-west connecting highway could prove a major blow to Montgomery's long-range economic development. Relieving gridlocked roads is a pivotal goal of business leaders. Tying the region to BWI Airport -- and Baltimore -- was expected to generate huge numbers of new jobs and businesses. Now those hopes are gone, wiped away by the governor, who still is at a loss to describe exactly what he thinks will replace this connecting highway.

Eighteen months ago, the Board of Trade polled Montgomery residents and those in affected Prince George's districts and found that 66 percent favored building the ICC and only 13 percent opposed it. As for widening existing roads -- which administration officials suggest is a prime option -- the poll showed 52 percent opposed and only 28 percent in favor.

True, the ICC has been tied up in bureaucratic red tape and environmental delays for decades. But killing the project doesn't make any sense. The need for some sort of east-west connecting road to relieve the Capitol Beltway of local traffic and link the Baltimore and Montgomery communities hasn't disappeared.

The governor tried to soften the blow to Montgomery by last week announcing his support for a $60 million concert hall near Rockville that would marry the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to Montgomery's affluent and culturally deprived populace. The good news, though, was dwarfed by the bad.

Heavily voting Montgomery, the state's largest county with 827,000 residents, looks like the central battle ground in the November general election.

Mr. Glendening is already under fire in Montgomery County for supporting not one, but two, costly football stadiums that are deeply disliked and for pushing through legislation giving Baltimore schools a $250 million multiyear aid package. Now he has axed the county's No. 1 highway project, the ICC.

None of that is going to help him on election day. And if the race for governor is as close as it was four years ago, Mr. Glendening will need every vote he can get.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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