Residents sound off about Intercounty Connector routes
Nov. 25, 2003
Matthew Boyd and Stacey M. Duck
Staff Writers

Same road, different route, timeless arguments.

Here we are some 50 years later, and Montgomery County still differs on whether to build the Intercounty Connector -- an east-west highway that would connect Gaithersburg to Laurel. But now, with the announcement earlier this month from the State Highway Administration on two proposed routes for the ICC, the familiar battle over easing congestion and still protecting neighborhoods and the environment has resurfaced with a vengeance.

One route, which the SHA says has more environmental obstacles, generally follows Montgomery County's master plan route. The second route, also known as the northern alignment and that would face perhaps fewer environmental concerns but would require removing more homes, roughly follows Route 198, crossing just north of the Route 29 intersection before veering south into Prince George's County between Laurel and Beltsville.

Two recent open houses on the ICC that were held in Silver Spring and Gaithersburg, and drew more than 1,000 people, gave state planners and politicians a glimpse into which route, if any, will better serve the area.

"Every single person without exception is opposed to the northern alignment and about half are opposed to any east-west highway whatsoever," said Del. Karen S. Montgomery (D-Dist. 14) of Brookeville, whose district includes the areas that the highway would pass through. The other half supported the ICC along the master plan route, she said.

John Croft of Silver Spring made his first trek to learn about the ICC on Nov. 19 in Gaithersburg, but is not quite sure what to think.

"Well, something has to be built, but I don't know what yet," Croft said.

Croft said an east-west roadway to ease congestion on the Capital Beltway is an excellent idea, but after reading maps and charts on the issue, he is still unsure whether the ICC is a viable option.

"I haven't seen too much about transportation needs," he said. "How does it affect economic development in the area? Do we want that kind of growth?"

At a forum at Silver Spring's Blake High School on Nov. 15, there was little uncertainty from the roughly 800 residents, elected officials and community groups who came out to tell state officials that they do not like the northern alignment, and others who hate the highway altogether.

Greg Vilders said traffic is not as important as managing sprawl. His neighborhood, the historic district of Spencerville, probably will see more traffic if the ICC is not built, but his neighbors are unanimously opposed to the ICC, he said.

"People live here because it's not Virginia or New Jersey," Vilders said, adding that they do not want the uncontrolled sprawl that characterizes those states.

A home is to live in and to commute to work from, Vilders said. "If you can't handle the commute, don't try to take someone else's house," he said.

A 1999 study of the road estimated that it would cost $1.7 billion to build the road. Dave Buck, a State Highway Administration spokesman, said that is a reasonable estimate. The state will not have a better handle on the possible cost until 2005, he said, adding that some of the total cost will go toward buying some land for rights of way, depending on which route is chosen. The study and design plans will cost $140 million.

The lack of alternatives was the focus of several protesters on Saturday. The protest was organized by Save Our Communities, a coalition of elected officials and civic organizations that oppose the ICC in favor of alternatives to building roads.

"Tell them they need to study more than whose neighborhood to put a six-lane highway in," said Laura Olsen, assistant director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Montgomery County Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton echoed that sentiment. "Once again, we have an effort to pit neighborhood against neighborhood," said Praisner, who has voted against building the ICC. "Don't think you can throw money at this problem. Money won't solve the problem."

"We need a road for people who live in the county to cross the county, but this isn't it," said Pat D'Aranza of Derwood. "It's a truck route."

Despite how long plans for the road have been debated, revamped, cursed and cheered, some people are newcomers to the debate.

Although Pam Broemser grew up in Gaithersburg, she began learning specifics about the ICC only two months ago when she bought a Montgomery Village townhouse. She plans to rally her neighbors to support the "no build" option required by the federal study. In that option, the ICC would not be built, but minor improvements would be made to other east-west roads.

"I'm horrified, I'm really horrified that so much money is going to be put into destroying what little natural resources we have in this county," Broemser said. "I don't think the solution to our inconvenience is destroying natural resources."