Proponents deny demise of Intercounty Connector

Legislative leaders eager to revive road

November 17, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening says the Intercounty Connector is dead.

So why doesn't anyone believe him?

Backstage maneuvers before January's opening of the state General Assembly are proceeding among supporters and foes of the proposed $1.1 billion highway as if the ICC is a battle whose outcome is still in doubt.

This time, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. have become active players and a rallying point for both sides in the latest twist in the often fractious, 50-year-old debate over the proposed road connecting Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

They say they will take legislative steps to protect plans for the ICC.

In September, Glendening said he was killing the proposed $1.1 billion highway, and then the Montgomery County Council said it would turn a portion of the road's route into a park.

But Miller said yesterday that the County Council is overstepping its bounds.

"I don't want to make a war with Governor Glendening, but I sure don't mind making war on the Montgomery County Council," Miller said. "It will be like they're shooting pingpong balls against an elephant."

And Taylor brushed aside the council's contention that the ICC corridor is a local land-use issue.

"So what if it is a local land-use issue?" he said. "The ICC isn't a local issue. We are talking about a one-Maryland transportation network that works for everybody."

The business community is applauding these stands.

"This is a road with regional impact; it is on regional transportation plans. Yet the council is attempting to take it off the books with no public hearing, no deliberation, no thought for impact beyond Montgomery County's borders," said Richard Parsons, spokesman for the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Anti-ICC forces say such statements as Miller's show why they cannot assume the road is dead.

"The big guys are throwing their weight around. We're going to be in a knockdown, drag-out war," says Christopher Bedford, chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, an ICC foe.

Barney Evans, who heads a Montgomery anti-ICC group, agrees with Bedford.

"We've been lucky to hold together a coalition for 10 years. Every day, every day, I have to remind people that despite the governor's pronouncement, it's not over," Evans says.

The specter of a fight between legislative leaders and local officials has members of the Montgomery delegation cringing.

"It's unfortunate that the council acted. I don't think it was a wise decision," said state Sen. Ida G. Ruben, a Silver Spring Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate delegation. "All it did was raise the ire of the pro-ICC people in leadership roles."

Del. Kumar P. Barve, chairman of Montgomery's House delegation, said: "The council violated a freshman 101 rule: Thou shalt not anger the Senate president."

And Miller is angry.

"Local elected officials cannot be like ostriches that bury their heads in the sand and ignore this significant issue that impacts on not only their constituents but 5 million other Marylanders," he said. "If they expect to receive state money, they better well consider the needs of the entire state of Maryland."

The chances that this session will lead to a breakthrough one way or the other are slim, say legislators and local officials: Neither side packs sufficient punch to put the other side away.

In their corner, the foes have rulings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers that the primary ICC route is too destructive to forest and wetlands. They also have the Montgomery and Prince George's county councils and Glendening, who has vowed to sell state-owned land in one of the proposed ICC routes.

ICC supporters can counter with Miller, Taylor and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, plus former governor and now Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon. As two-thirds of the state Board of Public Works, Schaefer and Dixon say they will block Glendening's proposed sale of state-owned land set aside for the road.

Time appears to favor the ICC, a highway that has been discussed by the state for five decades.

Political leaders change, construction techniques improve, but traffic congestion in the Washington suburbs continues to worsen.

Francis Francois, a former Prince George's County Council member and former executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, says there are examples around the country where members of Congress have filed legislation to exempt projects from federal environmental laws.

"Politics can change a lot of things. The only certainty is that Governor Glendening can't run again and that he will be replaced," he said.

"A Governor Duncan may feel differently," Francois said in a reference to the possibility that Duncan might run.

Bedford, a veteran of environmental battles, says that if ICC opponents need a reminder of how quickly things can turn, they have to look no farther than Northern Virginia, where environmentalists waged a 17-year war against Interstate 66.

"For 16 years, they were successful. In the 17th year, they lost and the road was built," he says. "Roads are like monsters. They never die."

Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron also contributed to this article.

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