Board agrees to look for ways to fill in gaps of ICC bike path

State has committed to building 7.7 miles of the 18-mile length of roadway

Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007

Planners have recommended ways to finish a proposed bicycle path along the route of the Intercounty Connector highway, including a funding method that could complete segments that the state has not committed to construct.

The recommendations, approved Thursday evening by the Montgomery County Planning Board, will be transmitted to the Montgomery County Council for discussion.

A bike path along the Intercounty Connector’s entire 18-mile length is recommended in both the county’s 2005 Countywide Bikeways Functional Master Plan and the 1998 Countywide Park Trails Plan.

However, the State Highway Administration has committed to construct only 7.7 miles of the path adjacent to the highway.

Those 7.7 miles are not contiguous and do not form a direct route, said Chuck Kines, bikeways planner⁄coordinator for Park and Planning.

The segments, he said, would be built at the same time as the Intercounty Connector, an 18-mile toll road that would connect Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg and Interstate 95 in Laurel at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion.

The segments are planned as follows: Needwood Road to Emory Lane, Georgia Avenue to Layhill Road, Notley Road to New Hampshire Avenue and Briggs Chaney Road to the county line.

Kines said SHA has agreed to work with the county to construct and connect the remaining 10.3 miles over time as funding becomes available and ways to build the segments in an environmentally friendly manner are found.

He said he and other Park and Planning staff and Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation staff met periodically over the summer to develop a list of recommendations for construction.

During Thursday’s meeting before the Planning Board, Kines presented those recommendations and discussed the benefits of a bike path parallel to a highway.

He noted that bike paths that follow major highways have worked well in Virginia along Interstate 66 and in Colorado.

SHA members were invited to the meeting, Kines said, but elected not to attend.

The recommendations listed in a memo from Kines to the Planning Board include ways to connect the 7.7 miles already planned, as well as ways to make the entire path more cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly.

For example, regarding the Needwood Road segment, one of the recommendations would connect the Intercounty Connector bike path with Beach Drive and Rock Creek Park via a new shared-use path along Needwood Road and then continuing the shared-use path westward along Needwood Road to connect to Redland Road. As a result, pedestrians and cyclists would gain access to the Shady Grove Metro Station.

When complete, Kines said, the path could connect to as many as 20 bikeways and trails.

Royce Hanson, chairman of the Planning Board, agreed with a number of the suggestions and expressed the need to create a more direct bike route.

‘‘I can see some advantages aesthetically to getting away from the ICC,” he said, but added that he was worried about what it would do to cyclists’ commutes.

At the end of the discussion, the Planning Board agreed to forward staff’s recommendations to the County Council for a public hearing Jan. 23. From there, the recommendations will be discussed at a Feb. 8 worksession before the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, Kines said.

The bike path recommendations will be forwarded to the council in conjunction with a list of transportation funding priorities for the county’s 10-year transportation program and the state’s transportation priority list.

Kines said it is not known how much the bike path would cost, but initially the State Highway Administration estimated $100 million. Kines said Park and Planning and the Department of Public Works and Transportation believe it could cost as little as $50 million.

‘‘The council estimates that a shared use bike path from planning to construction costs $2 million per mile,” he said.

After the meeting, Jack Cochrane, chair of Montgomery Bicycle Advocates and a resident of Bethesda, said he and his fellow group members support the bike path, but not necessarily the Intercounty Connector.

‘‘Basically, our position is we’re not saying we support the ICC, but if the ICC is built, we want to make sure that it has a parallel bike path next to it so that it serves cyclists as well as drivers,” he said.

Despite the promise of a bike path, some cyclists are still feeling less than pleased about the presence of the ICC.

‘‘Putting a bike path on the ICC is like putting deodorant on a pig factory farm,” said Paul Kuhn, a cyclist and resident of Rockville, at Thursday’s meeting. ‘‘It sounds green, it sounds like the right thing to do, but the ICC is still the wrong thing to do with or without the bike path. If the ICC cannot be stopped and they insist on building this road, they should be required by law to permit cyclists to use every inch of the route end to end. Ideally, they would take a lane away from the cars and give it to the bikes.”