ICC vote revives Master Plan alignment
Feb. 24, 1999

by Jen Beatty

Staff Writer

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Transportation Solutions Group voted 10-4 Friday for some form of the Intercounty Connector.

Members of the panel tentatively supported the controversial highway -- which would link Gaithersburg and Laurel -- on the condition that tolls be charged to single-occupancy vehicles.

Last year, Glendening abandoned his support for the ICC and appointed the Transportation Solutions Group to explore alternatives to building the 18-mile six-lane highway along the county's east-west corridor. The group initially voted to reject the Master Plan alignment but decided Friday to reconsider it.

"I'm very unhappy about this," said Lois Peters, a Burtonsville resident since 1978 and longtime ICC opponent. "By the [Maryland-National Capital] Park and Planning Commission's own studies this is not necessary. Montgomery County is losing farmland faster than any other county in the United States. How can the governor talk about Smart Growth? What are we growing toward?"

Sen. Christopher J. McCabe (R-Dist. 14) of Ellicott City, who supports the Master Plan alignment, said he is pleased that the Transportation Solutions Group is supporting the highway.

"I have longed believed there is a need for a significant east-west highway connecting Prince George's and Montgomery County," said McCabe. "However, the only way it can be mitigated is through the Master Plan alignment."

When the Transportation Solutions Group rejected the Master Plan option in December, many East County business owners and residents feared the approval of the proposed northern alignment, which basically would divide the business community in half. Now that the Master Plan route is being re-examined, some of those fears have been put to rest.

"It is very good to hear the words 'Master Plan alignment,'" said Anne Ball, president of the Eastern Montgomery Chamber of Commerce. "We, as a chamber, have come out against any hybrid alignment, so it is good news to hear they are reconsidering the Master Plan route. Something needs to happen, just not through the heart of Burtonsville."

Straying from the Master Plan would divert traffic around Burtonsville and harm the area's business community, which relies on east-west traffic flow, according to past chamber president Don Spence, an attorney with the Burtonsville firm Kasimer & Ittig.

Spence said the proposed northern alignment would destroy the Burtonsville Center concept called for by the Fairland Master Plan. Business owners have embraced the Town Center concept as a way to improve traffic circulation and pedestrian access and create a Burtonsville "main street."

However, Silver Spring resident Michael McGonnigal, who ran against state Sen. Ida Ruben (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring in last year's election, said the ICC is a horrible idea all around, regardless of which route the Transportation Solutions Group supports.

"Anybody who saw the makeup of that committee knew how it would come out," said McGonnigal. "It was stacked with pro-highway members. The committee was thrown together to get the issue off the public agenda until after the election."

In Prince George's County, two key opponents of the ICC remain unmoved by the transportation group's endorsement.

"It just dumps more traffic into areas that I represent," said State Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Dist 21) of Beltsville. "It means there will be more cars going north and south on I-95 or on [Baltimore Avenue] onto roads that are already congested."

Dorman suggested that Route 32 in Howard County, bypassing Prince George's County, would make "a better east-west connector than what they're trying to put in now."

Prince George's County Councilman Walter H. Maloney (D-Dist. 1) of Beltsville said a vocal few endorse a project that will snarl traffic and degrade the quality of life for Beltsville residents.

"This project already got shot down twice by federal agencies. ... There are a very few people here that want it, and I think the time has come for them to turn the page," he said.

But Karen Coakley, president of the Beltsville Citizen's Association, said the ICC is needed to alleviate traffic conditions along Baltimore Avenue north of the Beltway.

"The association has supported the road network that's in the Master Plan. ... There's been a need to relieve congestion with long-term necessary improvements," she said.

ICC alignment options and additional details about the highway will be discussed in future meetings of the Transportation Solutions Group. The next meeting of the group tentatively is scheduled for April, and final recommendations are due to the governor in July.

Staff writer Karl Hille contributed to this report.