Wednesday, June 18, 2008

ICC will benefit more than motorists

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Beyond serving regional mobility needs, the Intercounty Connector includes a host of environmental and community improvements that are as integral to the project as building the long-planned highway itself )”Northwest Branch master plan presented,” May 28 article; and ‘‘Turtles in path of ICC to get second chance,” June 11 article).

At every step in developing these enhancements, the State Highway Administration has coordinated with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, local residents and other stakeholders. With construction of the ICC now underway, SHA is pleased to either implement directly or provide wherewithal to move these enhancements from blueprints to green fields, wooded trails, historical attractions and other community assets.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has budgeted $370 million for environmental protection and enhancement projects associated with the ICC. These enhancements include:

*Relocating box turtles: Last fall, the ICC environmental team — assisted by specially trained turtle tracking dogs and community volunteers — located more than 200 box turtles near the western end of the ICC. Harmless transponders were affixed to their shells, which enabled the project to find and relocate the turtles prior to construction this spring. In partnership with SHA, Towson University will monitor and analyze the turtles’ response and behavior over the next three years.

*Renovating historic Woodlawn Barn: Once a hiding place for freedom-seeking African Americans before emancipation, the 1832 Woodlawn Barn will be renovated by M-NCPPC and will feature an interactive education center detailing its role in the Underground Railroad.

*Creating the Llewellyn Sports Complex: In 2006, SHA fast-tracked the replacement of the Wheaton Boys and Girls Club soccer field, which frequently flooded and was turned into wetlands. A new soccer field was established at the new Llewellyn Sports Complex, which ultimately will feature three soccer fields, a baseball field and a football field.

*Expanding trails: Overall, SHA will build more than 11 miles of bike⁄pedestrian trails, while reconstructing another three miles and linking nearly 20 existing and planned trails.

*Replacing parklands at more than an 8-to-1 ratio: More than 775 acres of new parkland will replace 88 acres impacted by the ICC.

Despite major design refinements to minimize or avoid the impact on both human and natural environments, some impacts created by construction of this much-needed project are unavoidable. In close coordination with M-NCPPC and others, we are compensating for those impacts with many enhancements that will make Montgomery and Prince George’s counties even better places in which to live, work and play.

Neil J. Pedersen, Baltimore

The writer is administrator of the State Highway Administration.