Task force rejects ICC master plan
Dec. 16, 1998




by Andrew J. Scott, Staff Writer

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's transportation task force has rejected the option of building the Intercounty Connector on the route that has been in Montgomery County's master plan for 30 years.

Several panel members also indicated they are increasingly skeptical about the need for any new highway in the corridor.

The Transportation Solutions Group, created last summer to take a fresh look at the ICC, was thought by many on both sides of the debate to be a ruse by Glendening to put off approval of the road until after the November election.

That doesn't appear to be the case.

At a two-day meeting in Greenbelt last week, the group of transportation, environmental and land use experts agreed to drop the eastern section of the ICC Master Plan alignment from its deliberations after hearing from federal officials about environmental concerns.

"This committee rejected it today," Tom Deen, chairman of the group, said at the conclusion of its meeting Friday.

State and federal officials already rejected the section between Georgia Avenue and Route 29, but some in the community advocated building the road on the alignment in an environmentally sensitive way.

Deen said it appears to be "legally impossible," to build there.

While the group still plans to look at proposals, several members said the case has not been made for any ICC-like highway linking Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg to Interstate 95 near Laurel.

"I think that's still on the table, though I don't hear a lot of enthusiasm," said Deen.

The chief advocate for the highway, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, did not convince some members of the group of the need for a highway link.

On Thursday, the board gave its standard pitch for more highways and bridges during the Greenbelt meeting. But Friday, the group agreed to seek further arguments both for and against the ICC.

One member of the task force said he felt the proponents have the burden of proof in arguing for a new highway.

"That burden of proof has not been met," said Kenneth Orski, a transportation consultant with the Urban Mobility Corp. in Washington.

Some members questioned how many trips are projected on the ICC from end to end, specifically from the I-270 corridor to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But that did not sway William Eichbaum, a group member who is vice president for U.S. Conservation and Global Threats for the World Wildlife Fund.

"I think it's hooey," Eichbaum said. "I don't see how we ought to build a highway for that purpose."

Deen seems to be pursuing a proposal to build a "skinnied-down" roadway, as he described it. He discussed the possibility of a four-lane highway similar to I-66 in Virginia.

At its next meeting in January, the group plans to look at a menu of options for solving the region's transportation gridlock. The group's final recommendations to the governor are due in July.

Business groups and some political leaders hoped that Glendening's administration, which a year ago ruled out the master plan alignment, could return to that route by using environmentally sensitive construction.

The group specifically asked about a construction technique advocated by ICC-Master Plan supporters called end-on construction, essentially building a bridge over environmentally sensitive areas.

Paul Wettlauffer, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers' River Basin Permit Section, told the group that end-on construction would not address the corps' concerns, including the highway's impact on streams that are home to brown trout.

Roy Buyer, a member of the ICC Master Plan Advocates, said he was disappointed with how quickly the group gave up on end-on construction.

"I can't understand why that won't do the trick," he said.

"I think they need to go the extra mile to see if that works," said Robert Grow, staff director on transportation issues for the Board of Trade.

Greg Smith of the Campaign to Stop the Intercounty Connector, who has been skeptical of the Transportation Solutions Group since its inception, remained wary.

"We're still in the wait-and-see mode," said Smith.

The group's willingness to look at other alignments is likely to upset residents in the Burtonsville area, where a new route could go.

Stuart Rochester, chair of the Fairland Master Plan Advisory Committee, warned that the group seems willing to ignore the county's land use plans.

"It flies right in the face of what Montgomery County thinks is Smart Growth," he said, referring to the governor's policy of slowing suburban sprawl and revitalizing existing communities.

During the meeting, Deen said that while changing the route gets away from local plans, those plans were written under the assumption the ICC Master Plan alignment would be built.

"If that gets dumped ... there are no alternatives that fit ... including doing nothing," Deen said.