State Highway Administration officials told a County Council committee March 5 a final decision could be made by fall on which route, if any, will be used for the Intercounty Connector.
SHA project manager Alan Straus, project engineer Robert Ritter and Joe Anderson of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission briefed Transportation and Environment Committee members Gail Ewing (D-At Large) of Potomac, Derick Berlage (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring and Isiah Leggett (D-At Large) of Burtonsville on the project.
Leggett sat in on the briefing but has recused himself from discussions on the project, according to a memo he sent Feb. 26 to Council President Marilyn Praisner (D-Dist. 4), because he feels his participation would present a conflict of interest. Leggett owns two properties which are close to two possible routes for the ICC.
Straus told the committee the State Highway Administration has received federal concurrence on all five study alternatives which will be included in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) currently in the works. The alternatives include the master plan alignment, the no-build option, the upgrade-existing-roads alternative, the northern alignment and the mid-county highway alignment.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement will be out this spring, Straus said. Forty-five days after its release, formal public hearings will be held, he said.
Straus said the selection of a final route by the State Highway Administration, with the cooperation of state and local officials, and the completion of the final EIS could be accomplished by this fall, but he said he was hesitant to put a more definite time frame on it.
The council has approved only an additional $115,000 for the project to carry the county's support through December. County support for later stages of the project, such as final design or construction, will be decided later.
In a turn described as unusual by Ewing, two residents -- Frank Vrataric of the Coalition on Sensible Transportation, a well-known critic of the ICC, and Aaron Handler, who sits on the Citizens Advisory Committee and is a well-known proponent of the roadway -- were permitted to give 10-minute briefings to the committee on the their analyses of future traffic needs and the ICC's ability to meet those needs.
Vrataric, using what he said were official data obtained from the State Highway Administration's ICC Project Study Office and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said the most serious traffic problem to be dealt with is "saturated intersections that will lead to area-wide gridlock" no matter which, if any, ICC alternative is selected.
Straus said the study team realizes that the ICC "is not the cure" for all transportation problems in the county, but he said it believes "up to 75 percent of intersections will improve" with one of the ICC alternatives. He said a few intersections will still be congested.
Handler also suggested that intersections might remain congested even after the ICC is built -- not because the ICC is ineffective, but because "population and housing increases in both the ICC study area and in neighboring jurisdictions will increase at a faster pace than will road capacity improvements to serve this increasing number of travelers."
He said other measures, in addition to building the ICC, will need to be taken to meet that need.
Reprinted from Friday's Montgomery Gazette.