ICC would harm open lands, bay

Question of the Month

February 22, 2003

Q: Despite the state's budget crunch, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is moving ahead with plans to build the Intercounty Connector in Montgomery County. Would you prefer to see Maryland invest in this and other highway projects, or in public transit initiatives such as the Baltimore regional rail plan and the maglev line?

The Intercounty Connector is a bankrupt idea from yesteryear. According to every official study done, it will not solve, or even significantly lessen, the problems of congestion on the Washington Beltway, Interstate 95, Interstate 270 or Route 29.

Using all the usual traffic performance measures, the modeled roadway performed no better, and in some cases worse, than the alternatives. Indeed, it was shown to add to traffic congestion on many of its intersecting roads and barely improve travel time to Baltimore-Washington International Airport from Gaithersburg.

On the other hand, the ICC is guaranteed to worsen environmental conditions. This 18-mile freeway would displace hundreds of acres of natural filters and up to 550 acres of forested land and almost 150 acres of parkland. It would adversely affect up to six miles of streams and many acres of wetlands, and destroy the local habitat of 17 rare species.

It could exacerbate sprawl. And it would likely worsen air pollution in a metropolitan region that already exceeds federal clean air standards by 45 tons per year.

The state cannot afford this road. The counties cannot afford this road. The Chesapeake Bay cannot afford this road. Let's move on.

Lee R. Epstein

Annapolis

The writer is director of the Lands Program of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

It has been conservatively estimated that the Intercounty Connector would cost $1.5 billion. The General Assembly already has legislation in the works to increase the vehicle registration fee to support such projects, and a gas tax is also in the works.

But instead of buying an "end to gridlock," taxpayers would be subsidizing the very development that will further constrict our roads.

And not all the costs we pay will be monetary. Even an "environmentally sensitive" ICC (a phrase we heard a lot in the past election) would irretrievably spoil some of the last and best open spaces in Montgomery County.

For example, government studies say the ICC would cut across and severely degrade six watersheds, including fragile headwaters of the Anacostia River; add sediment, heat and chemicals to the streams, greatly reducing their biodiversity; destroy more than 100 acres of wetlands; devastate more than 1,000 acres of increasingly rare forest habitat for 21 species of songbirds; and eliminate the last remaining east-west wildlife corridors in eastern and central Montgomery County.

The $1.5 billion that the ICC is projected to cost could be used to buy real solutions to our traffic congestion.

Examples include improving local roads; encouraging telecommuting; building the Corridor Cities Light Rail Project, which would connect Clarksburg with the Shady Grove Metro stop via Germantown, Gaithersburg and Rockville; and building the inner Purple Line, which would connect Silver Spring to Bethesda.

Kenneth S. Price

Silver Spring

The Intercounty Connector is likely to cost more than $1 billion. That's more than $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Montgomery County. I'd like to cash out my share.

And as expensive as the ICC would be, its true cost is much higher. The Paint Branch stream is irreplaceable and would be destroyed as a place of refuge for both animals in need of a home and humans in need of the solace of nature. The portion of Rock Creek Park just north of Lake Needwood that the ICC would pave is also quite lovely.

What legacy shall we leave for our children? Asphalt and urban sprawl? We can do so much better. There are alternatives to the ICC that would save the forest, farms and wetlands of our county and still do better as transportation.

The real effort to address our traffic problems won't begin until the ICC is finally abandoned.

Rosemary M. Hamill

North Potomac

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