ICC loses another link

Montgomery council shifts plan for land from highway to park

November 03, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- The Montgomery County Council is trying to pull the dirt out from under the Intercounty Connector by turning a portion of the path of the proposed highway into a park.

The council yesterday directed the local Planning Board, which owns about 190 acres in the middle of the ICC corridor, to begin the process of removing the project from the county's transportation plans and redesignating the land as a park.

Five council members say the bipartisan resolution will effectively kill plans for a $1.2 billion east-west highway connecting Montgomery and Prince George's County.

"We believe it is high time to accept reality that the ICC will not be built," said Derick P. Berlage, a Democrat who represents Silver Spring. "It's time to move on."

ICC supporters, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, say a declaration of victory is premature because the Planning Board process will take years to complete, and the political landscape could change.

The vote is the second time in less than two months that Maryland politicians have taken aim at a road that has been on the planning books for decades.

In September, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced he was killing the 18-mile highway and would sell state-owned land acquired for another possible ICC alignment.

In making that move, Glendening rejected the recommendation of his hand-picked panel of experts calling for a four-lane parkway. The governor said concerns raised by the Environmental Protection Agency made building the road impossible.

Duncan said selling land acquired for the road would close options that future political leaders might need if congestion worsens.

"Clearly the Glendening-Townsend administration isn't going to act to solve our traffic congestion. They are out of step with the people of our state. We must keep our options open so that the next governor can take steps to alleviate the problems," said Duncan, who is expected to run for governor in 2002.

The council vote also was criticized by the business community.

"This is empty posturing and political grandstanding. We have congestion at unacceptable levels and this resolution does nothing to address that," said Richard Parsons, spokesman for the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

While Duncan and Glendening are on opposite sides of the ICC, they find themselves in the same boat when it comes to influencing recent events.

Duncan can do little to stop the council. He cannot veto the resolution nor can he override the council's land-use decisions.

The governor is being frustrated by State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, who with Glendening make up the Board of Public Works and have vowed to block any land sales.

Montgomery council members say that kind of political bickering has prevented progress on other initiatives to alleviate traffic congestion so severe that it is second only to Los Angeles.

The council has proposed $1 billion in road improvements and mass transit initiatives.

"The longer we argue about the ICC, the longer our citizens will sit in traffic jams," said Nancy Dacek, a Republican who represents the northern part of the county and has opposed the ICC. "We are ready to go. We have the projects in our plan. Let's stop fighting about this."

But even if the council could stop arguments about the ICC, it would still face a debate over Glendening's proposed replacement road.

The governor envisions an eastern parkway from U.S. 1 to U.S. 29 and a western parkway from Interstate 370 to Georgia Avenue -- the two ends of the proposed ICC without the eight-mile center section.

Glendening's proposal for the parkways received a lukewarm response from the council, which rejected the western road and agreed only to study the eastern segment.

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