Leaders move to revive Intercounty Connector

Miller and Taylor support renewed study

January 26, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Legislative leaders started a campaign yesterday to revive the stalled proposal for a suburban Washington highway designed to ease some of the area's gridlock.

In a largely symbolic move, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. introduced a joint resolution urging the governor to study the environmental impact of building the Intercounty Connector.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a supporter of the highway when he first ran for governor, halted planning for the project in 1999. He said he feared the proposed 17-mile link connecting Interstate 270 with Interstate 95 would harm the environment and encourage unbridled development.

Miller and Taylor are asking Glendening to complete an environmental impact study that was abandoned in 1997. But Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said yesterday that would not happen. "The governor made his position on ICC very clear," Morrill said.

The legislators said they did not expect to change Glendening's mind on the issue, but are hoping for a symbolic vote that will capture the attention of the next governor. The resolution was co-sponsored by a majority of senators and two-fifths of House members.

"The majority of people are fed up, and they want this east-west corridor built," said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, a Montgomery County Democrat. "I truly believe it will be one of the biggest issues in the [gubernatorial] campaign."

Some Democratic leaders fear that their party's expected gubernatorial nominee, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, will be hurt in November if she does not embrace the ICC. Townsend, who in the past defended Glendening's opposition to the highway, recently said she is open to studying the idea.

In the Maryland Poll, a survey conducted for The Sun this month, 71 percent of suburban Washington voters called traffic congestion a "major problem" or "crisis."

The ICC, which would connect Montgomery and Prince George's counties, has been in the planning stages for more than five decades. Supporters say it would ease traffic on the Capitol Beltway and provide easy access between the I-270 corridor and Baltimore.

But there has been intense debate over what route the highway should take and whether it would alleviate the area's traffic problems. Environmentalists contend it would level 500 acres of trees and threaten Rock Creek. The federal government has twice rejected the road's primary proposed route.

"The environmental studies have already been done, and they indicate there would be an incredible amount of damage to the streams and be a huge subsidy to sprawl," said Jon Robinson, chairman of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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