Road plan fails to cool hot debate

East-west highway backed, but with limit on truck size

Neither side is pleased

Proposed restrictions defeat purpose of connector, backers say

April 25, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- The state's business community might get a steak without the sizzle as it lobbies for a $1.1 billion highway to speed commercial traffic between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

A transportation group advising Gov. Parris N. Glendening has given preliminary endorsement to a version of the Intercounty Connector from Interstate 95 in Laurel to Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg.

But as a concession to residents and environmentalists, the Transportation Solutions Group is recommending that only the smallest delivery trucks, not tractor-trailers, be permitted on the 18-mile road.

The compromise has pleased neither the pro-highway forces, who promise to renew their pressure, nor the environmental activists, who vow to write a report to the governor.

"There's nothing you could do to get the anti-ICC people to endorse anything," said Richard Parsons of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. "They won't stop until it's the Rachel Carson Goat Trail."

Pam Lindstrom, who opposes the road and is a member of the governor's advisory group, said members are wasting their time crafting compromises.

"I'm not impressed," said the Montgomery County resident. "I don't care what form the ICC takes or where it goes. It's competing for money with other transportation projects that could make a difference."

The Transportation Solutions Group was formed early last year to recommend ways to alleviate traffic congestion in the Washington suburbs, especially the Capital Beltway and its feeder roads. Its report is expected in July.

In a draft report released last week, the group endorsed building a toll road north of the Beltway but placed a number of restrictions on it, including limiting freight traffic to "single-unit" delivery-style trucks.

Highway supporters say restrictions on the proposed road would impede the flow of commerce between Montgomery County, the state's most prosperous jurisdiction, and the airport.

Montgomery County has approved 32 million square feet of commercial development, and more than 15,000 private-sector jobs were created, in the first half of last year, said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

The county generated more jobs than Baltimore and its suburbs created during that period, according to statistics from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

"Future growth is highly dependent on strong east-west access, especially to the airport," Duncan said. "The Maryland suburbs [outside Washington] could lose that growth to Northern Virginia, with its easy access to [Washington] Dulles [International Airport]."

Duncan said group members "are getting ahead of themselves" by imposing restrictions on the road and should leave that work to highway planners.

Last year, BWI moved 421 million pounds of freight, 19 percent more than in 1997. A midfield cargo complex is being constructed, with the 60,000-square-foot first phase scheduled for completion late next year.

Neil Shpritz, executive director of the BWI Partnership, said an east-west connector that bans trucks would not be doing all it could for the economy.

"It absolutely helps travelers," he said. "But this is a grown-up airport. We need 18-wheelers to move goods to distribution centers for the smaller trucks. Federal Express never made it by shipping one piece of material at a time."

Kenneth Orski, a nationally known transportation planner and member of the governor's task force, said he is not worried about the criticism.

"That may be a sign that we are finding a middle ground, because either extreme is not going to be acceptable to the vast majority of people," he said. "We are desperately looking for something the majority can embrace."

Lindstrom scoffed at that approach and said she and three other task force members will write a minority report.

"This has been 14 months of window dressing. This group hasn't really earned their keep," she said. "Our charge was to take a fresh look. This is a laundry list, and a very familiar one at that."

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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