Groups say poll shows ICC lacks support

54 percent of Montgomery County Democrats say leaders should consider alternatives to roadway

March 24, 2006|By TOM HOWELL JR.

ROCKVILLE -- Environmental and civic groups produced ammunition for their fight against the Inter-County Connector on Wednesday in unveiling poll numbers that they say show a majority of Montgomery County residents want to reconsider the highway.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research surveyed 500 registered Democrats in Montgomery County and found 54 percent of them think leaders should consider alternatives to the ICC, which could cost up to $3 billion. The poll was conducted from March 9 to 14 and had a 4.5 percent margin of error.

Roughly 60 percent of those surveyed supported the ICC at the start of the poll, Mason-Dixon pollster Larry Harris said, but support dropped after respondents were presented with information from a State Highway Administration report.

Representatives for the poll sponsors, pointing to the 10,000-page SHA report completed in mid-January, said the ICC would not reduce traffic on the Capital Beltway or Interstates 95 and 270, would cost commuters $7 in round-trip tolls and be an unwise investment compared with public transit and local road improvements.

"Residents did not know these things," Harris said. "They had an assumption that it was going to solve problems, that it was going to relieve traffic on the Beltway, and the toll issue came as a shock to many residents."

The issue of tolls and the ICC's impact on traffic has been discussed for more than a year.

Most of the poll questions were preceded by a sentence. Question No. 4, for example, said, "According to the Maryland State Highway Administration, the ICC will not reduce congestion on I-95 and I-270. Does this make you more likely or less likely to support the ICC?"

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said statements in the poll were misleading and that a majority of residents across party lines support the ICC.

The poll only questioned Democrats because they will vote in the gubernatorial primary and because "they call the tune here in Montgomery County," Harris said.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Montgomery County 277,019 to 130,994, according to a county voter registration report from January.

The Audubon Naturalist Society, which was a sponsor of the poll, was joined in support by Montgomery Councilman Phil Andrews and representatives from the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Longmeade Civic Association, a community group based near the proposed ICC route.

Those groups said the poll supports their belief that the ICC is an unwise investment in the face of such alternatives as transit and local road improvements.

Flanagan countered that the SHA never suggested the ICC would be ineffective and said the highway would be a new option that will "clearly alleviate the congestion problem."

"This is a poll designed for one purpose only - to extend the 35-year delay in building the Inter-County Connector," he said. "Thirty-five years is way too long."

The decades-long traffic debate was punctuated by the first question in the Mason-Dixon poll, asking, "What is the biggest issue facing Montgomery County today?" "Traffic/roads" was the top answer, at 42 percent. "Poor schools" was second, at 14 percent.

"Traffic is a No. 1 issue for area residents, but they don't want the ICC to be the priority," said Laura Olsen of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Another poll question, Harris said, illustrated residents' preference for mass transit, Harris said. Nearly 40 percent said mass transit, Metro and traffic and safety improvements to existing roadways should be a priority over major new road building.

The state recognizes the need for public transit and road improvement, Flanagan said.

"We think a balanced program," he said, "includes public transit, improves local roads and an ICC."

Tom Howell Jr. is a reporter for Capital News Service.

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