Funding for road projects unveiled Governor announces aid for upgrades in D.C. suburbs

August 26, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced $42.2 million in new road projects for the Washington suburbs yesterday -- projects that he said will do more to ease congestion for besieged motorists than continued study of a highway that he has put on hold.

On a campaign sweep through the area, Glendening said he would put money in next year's budget for improving 16 of the state's most congested intersections -- 12 in Montgomery County and four in Prince George's County -- as part of his short-term solution to traffic problems in the region.

"The residents of Montgomery and Prince George's counties lose far too much time in gridlock," Glendening said. "This is long, long overdue."

The governor unveiled the plans at a news conference at the busy intersection of Routes 355 and 124 in Gaithersburg. Montgomery County is a key battleground in the fight for the State House.

In March, the governor pledged to pursue such traffic improvements after reversing his longtime support for construction of the Inter-County Connector (ICC), the politically thorny proposed highway link between Interstates 270 and 95 in Montgomery and Prince George's.

In reversing his stand, Glendening surprised and disappointed political and business leaders in the Washington suburbs by suspending the latest study of the ICC, a highway first proposed more than 50 years ago.

'Doesn't solve problem'

The Greater Washington Board of Trade, which has long sought construction of the ICC, welcomed the governor's proposal yesterday but remained firm in its position.

"There's no denying the fact that traffic at this point is virtually gridlocked and these intersections need to be upgraded," said Ted Trabue, a board spokesman. "But [upgrading] doesn't solve the problem. It still doesn't diminish the need for a limited-access thruway."

The campaign of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who favors construction of the ICC, criticized the governor's action.

"Instead of taking a leadership role and trying to alleviate Montgomery County's increasing traffic problems, he is wasting taxpayer money on a short-term solution that's going to need to be revisited in a couple of years," said Jim Dornan, a Sauerbrey campaign spokesman.

"These proposed improvements will do nothing to help move goods from the I-95 corridor to the I-270 corridor," Dornan said. "What needs to be done is to build the ICC."

The $1.1 billion project -- long favored by political and business leaders but opposed by environmentalists -- was stymied last fall when federal and state officials expressed concerns about the environment and rejected the route that had been on the region's planning maps for 30 years.

Instead of continuing an analysis of how other possible routes might affect the environment, Glendening in March launched a new 18-month study of alternatives to building the highway. A decision on whether to renew planning for the ICC is to be based on recommendations by the latest study panel.

Glendening said yesterday that the road improvements he announced "are not a substitute for the ICC" but rather a way to ease traffic problems that were going unsolved, pending resolution of the highway controversy.

"We need to get past this policy gridlock," he said.

Other programs

In addition to the $42.2 million in new road projects, Glendening said, the state would spend $480,000 to expand bus service between the two counties and $7 million to begin planning improvements of other intersections.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who supports Glendening in his re-election bid but who has favored building the ICC, thanked the governor for addressing congestion issues with the new state highway aid.

"I've talked about the need for the ICC, but I'm still reserving judgment until I see the draft" of an environmental-impact statement, Duncan said.

Pub Date: 8/26/98

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