Tying Montgomery Co. to the Baltimore region

Roadblock: Without east-west highway, county businesses and residents can't easily reach BWI.

May 10, 1999

BUSINESS is booming in Montgomery County, the state's largest subdivision. In the first six months of last year, 15,000 jobs were created; more than 32 million square feet of commercial space is being developed.

But the county is growing increasingly isolated from Maryland's eastern population center in the Baltimore region. One big reason is the lack of an east-west highway tying Rockville to Laurel, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Baltimore.

Once, the Intercounty Connector (ICC) was ranked by Gov. Parris N. Glendening as a top priority. That changed in last year's election. Too many Montgomery communities and environmentalists were objecting.

A gubernatorial panel is working on alternatives, but guess what?

They have come to the same conclusion reached by other study groups over the past 40 years: Montgomery needs a new east-west road.

Montgomery's success has spawned highway tie-ups that are worsening. In the next 20 years, average daily traffic on roads in the area proposed for the ICC is expected to double, based just on development in the pipeline.

Such rapid growth demands a government response. The solutions offered by ICC foes -- fixing a few intersections, widening some local roads and building a light-rail line -- won't solve a problem of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, no-growth advocates are making headway. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan now talks of a narrow, inadequate four-lane parkway, while the county council wants to abandon the ICC entirely. The governor's task force is leaning toward a toll road that bans most trucks.

A truck ban on the new road would only ensure more traffic for Interstate 270 and the overloaded Capital Beltway. It wouldn't help Montgomery companies ship goods to BWI Airport. Instead, it could spur more firms to use airports in Northern Virginia and consider moving there.

Building an ICC doesn't have to mean more sprawl or environmental harm. Simple steps can be taken to prevent this. It remains the best approach to easing the county's gridlock.

Linking Montgomery County and the Baltimore region could stimulate cooperative efforts on economic development. It should be a prime objective for the governor and other political leaders who have the courage to support it.

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