ICC road plan killed

Glendening rejects highway connecting Laurel, Gaithersburg

Overrules his task force

Compromise dismays Montgomery executive but pleases its council

September 23, 1999|By Michael Dresser and Marcia Myers | Michael Dresser and Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening pulled the plug on almost 50 years of planning yesterday as he moved to permanently block construction of a controversial highway linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

"I will not build the Intercounty Connector. As far as I'm concerned, there is no Intercounty Connector," Glendening said yesterday.

At the same time, he proposed construction of two stretches of highway at either end of the 17-mile proposed route for the ICC. Together, they would amount to nine miles of roadway.

The governor's middle-ground position drew criticism from both sides.

"We wanted a whole loaf, and what we've got here is a half loaf," said Glen Harper, a neurologist who lives in Olney, works in Greenbelt and believed the connector would save him an hour on the road each day.

Said Pamela Lindstrom, an opponent of the highway: "I feel definite dismay that he couldn't make up his mind."

Glendening's decision to overrule his own task force's recommendation to build the entire highway -- which he called his No. 1 transportation priority when he first ran for governor -- was a bitter disappointment for business groups and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

His position also failed to satisfy some of his environmentalist allies, who expressed concern that the two stretches of road would cut through some of the land the full highway would have used.

For his part, Glendening characterized his decision as the death of the ICC.

He said he would put the proposed highway to rest by selling state land along one possible route and by converting the right of way along another into parkland.

"This will finally end the ICC or anything like the ICC once and for all," he said.

Highway improvements

In place of the highway, the governor proposed a $250 million laundry list of traffic improvements, including new interchanges, wider roads and the nine miles of highway.

One section would run from Interstate 370 in the Gaithersburg area to Route 97, while the other would connect U.S. 29 with U.S. 1 just south of Laurel. Missing would be a roughly eight-mile middle portion of the proposed ICC connecting Route 97 and U.S. 29.

Within hours, an angry Duncan was calling this missing link "the Glendening gap."

Duncan, an energetic backer of Glendening in the 1998 election, charged that the governor had "backed off his commitment to me" to proceed with the road if the task force recommended construction.

"I don't think Glendening and his administration are in touch with reality," said Duncan, who traveled to the State House after Glendening's news conference to voice his opposition. He said Glendening's plans would not put an end to the ICC, but simply make it more expensive for a future governor to build.

The Montgomery County executive, who is widely expected to vie with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002, predicted that traffic congestion would be a major issue in that campaign.

However, opinions in Duncan's own county are divided. The Montgomery County Council issued a statement praising Glendening's decision and calling the ICC "a financial boondoggle and an environmental disaster."

Governor's reasons

Glendening, who noted that he was age 8 when the ICC was first proposed in 1950, gave four key reasons for his decision:

Federal officials have said repeatedly that they would not approve the route in the state's master plan. Glendening said he objected to a proposed alternative in northern Montgomery County because it would run through farmland and encourage sprawl.

"People are caught in traffic today," and the debate over the ICC has delayed action on other solutions.

The connector would have such a "minimal" impact on Washington Beltway traffic that it would not justify its $1.5 billion cost.

It was time for the state to "get serious" about mass transit. He said the state might want to build some type of mass transit system along the proposed southern route for the ICC.

For five decades under eight governors, the ICC has been envisioned as relief for commuters traveling between Rockville and Laurel, who now use the Washington Beltway and Interstate 95.

With the growth of high-technology industry in the Interstate 270 corridor, the highway has gained additional symbolic importance as a link between Montgomery County and Maryland's financial hub in downtown Baltimore.

It has become a pet project of Maryland business groups, which reacted angrily to the announcement.

"He's handed us a very expensive package of Band-Aids -- no solutions," said John Schwieters, chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

But ICC opponents said construction along the original route would level more than 500 acres of woods, threaten the headwaters of Rock Creek and increase air pollution. A more northerly proposed route prompted similar concerns about the Tridelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs.

Such environmental concerns prompted Glendening to halt planning for the ICC last year and to create a task force to study all options for improving east-west travel.

The panel concluded that the traffic problems outweighed environmental concerns and that some version of the ICC was needed. It proposed a scaled-back, four-lane, limited-access parkway but did not settle on a specific route.

Yet the highway was not among the panel's top priorities, and it was not unanimously endorsed.

Improving mass transit services topped the group's list.

Glendening said yesterday that he agreed with all of the panel's recommendations except the one to build the ICC. He noted that the group was divided on the issue and that the majority could not agree on a route.

"There is not an alignment that works," the governor said.

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