On a bus tour through a busy Maryland corridor, the governor describes his No. 1 transportation priority, the Intercounty Connector.

Paving the way for ICC

Ehrlich leads tour of ICC site

February 15, 2005|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. promised yesterday that the state would use the most advanced technology to build the proposed Intercounty Connector, insisting that the highway would cause minimal environmental damage while relieving traffic congestion and improving safety.

Ehrlich's remarks came as he led a news media tour of the corridor in Prince George's and Montgomery counties where he wants to build the ICC, which would link Interstate 95 with Interstate 270.

The trip was billed as an opportunity to showcase environmental and community improvements to be incorporated into the estimated $2 billion project - Ehrlich's top transportation priority.

"We'll do it right. This is about doing it right," the governor said.

The long-planned tour came at a time when the General Assembly is considering an Ehrlich administration proposal to raise the limit imposed by legislators on the amount of money the state can borrow against future federal transportation aid to pay for the ICC.

Ehrlich mobilized five Cabinet secretaries to take part in a morning news conference at the Greenbelt office of the State Highway Administration, where state officials and journalists boarded two buses for a soggy journey along narrow and congested roads.

The governor vowed to make the ICC a reality after four decades of planning and debate.

"It's become a punch line," Ehrlich said, recalling how he joked in his 2002 campaign about seeing "vote for Nixon" on ICC signs.

"People laughed a very cynical laugh because it could have been true," Ehrlich said. He said construction of the road would amount to "a restoration of faith in the government's ability to promise an important project and deliver it."

Stabilizing efforts

The first stop on the tour was at a gritty industrial park in Beltsville. Ehrlich stood under an umbrella while highway administration biologist Rob Shreeve explained the agency's plan to stabilize the stream banks and narrow the channel of much-abused Indian Creek so that fish would have deep enough water to swim upstream.

"We hope that all of this will lead to better water quality downstream," Shreeve said.

The project is one of $270 million in water projects and community improvements the state is proposing as part of its effort to secure federal approval of the ICC - and to help defend it against possible court challenges from opponents on environmental grounds.

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen acted as tour guide as the buses rolled past a recreation center near Calverton, where the state plans to use ICC funds to add hiker and biker trails to give the community an alternative to driving to the facility.

Crossing into Montgomery County, the tour passed the Woodlawn Barn, an 1832 structure in Sandy Spring that the state is considering for restoration as a visitors center as part of the ICC plan.

At several points along the tour, Pedersen emphasized the curves, twists, poor sight lines and narrowness of the roads the bus was cruising down. As the tour headed west on Muncaster Mill Road near Gaithersburg, he said the route was being used by commuters as a "de facto ICC."

`Unsafe roadway'

The highway, he said, "would take a lot of traffic off this very unsafe roadway."

Opponents reject the premise that the ICC will make smaller roads safer. Brian Henry, campaign director for the Audubon Naturalist Society, said the state's own studies show that some of the local roads - including parts of Muncaster Mill - would see increased traffic if the ICC were built.

Henry added that the damage caused by building the ICC could not be mitigated. "The reality is this is an environmental disaster," he said.

At the tour's final stop in the Montgomery hamlet of Goshen, Ehrlich dismissed ICC critics as people who oppose any type of growth. "You cannot placate them, you cannot answer them," the governor said.

Ehrlich listened as Shreeve extolled the success of the 18-acre Hawkins Wetland created in the mid-1990s as part of the state's effort to mitigate the effects of expanding I-270. The highway administration is proposing to spend $2.3 million to create 21 acres of wetlands across the road to replace others lost to ICC construction.

Shreeve said the 10-year-old wetland was supporting healthy populations of ducks, geese, deer and beavers while helping to stabilize a local stream.

"This has been wildly successful," Ehrlich said. "It's an expensive proposition, but it needs to be done."

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