The Montgomery County Council gave the Intercounty Connector broad support Tuesday as members worked through the issues facing the State Highway Administration in constructing the controversial highway.
The council voted 6-3 to build the 18-mile toll road linking Gaithersburg and Laurel. Opposing were Council President Thomas E. Perez (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park, Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton and Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, all longtime opponents.
The council voted 7-2 to back the Corridor 1 alignment, which extends from Interstate 270 near Gaithersburg to U.S. 1 just south of Laurel.
An alternative, Corridor 2, begins and ends in roughly the same place but curves east and continues north of Md. 198 before terminating at U.S. 1, north of Muirkirk Road.
Perez joined the majority on that vote. Andrews said he opposes both options. Praisner opposed Corridor 2 and voted "no action" on Corridor 1.
The council's vote also accepts a number of recommendations from the council's Transportation and Environment Committee, including an interchange at Layhill Road, ramps at Briggs Chaney Road and Option A through Rock Creek Park. That option consumes more wetlands, forest and floodplain than other options, but it requires fewer acres, displaces fewer homes, crosses fewer streams and costs less.
The council also supported the committee's recommendation for the highway to be six lanes throughout its length. Members rejected a proposal by Glenn Orlin, the council's deputy staff director, for portions of the road be only four lanes.
Orlin said traffic studies do not support a six-lane highway for the full length of the ICC. A memo from the State Highway Administration said the Orlin plan could save the project $19 million to $60 million.
The ICC created a chasm between council members, although a majority has been on record favoring the highway since the 2002 election.
In recent months, opponents have blasted the state's Draft Environment Impact Statement (DEIS) because parts show that traffic congestion on the region's interstates would worsen in some areas.
But to Councilman Michael L. Subin (D-At large) of Gaithersburg, the ICC has nothing to do with relieving traffic congestion.
"They were questions for two generations ago, not this generation," Subin said at the beginning of Tuesday's worksession where the council hammered out its response to the DEIS.
Instead, he said, the highway provides a vital link for people in Rockville to easily reach Baltimore-Washington International Airport near Linthicum, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore city and the Port of Baltimore.
Andrews said the sheer cost of the project, as much as $2.4 billion, would preclude state assistance on other county projects that could have a more significant effect on traffic snarls.
"If the ICC is built, it'll be another nail in the coffin of the Purple Line," said Perez, referring to a transit line between Bethesda, Silver Spring and New Carrollton.
Before the worksession, Andrews claimed Konterra developer Kingdon Gould had funneled $129,000 into the campaign war chests of a number of officials who will decide the fate of the ICC.
Maryland campaign finance law limits individuals and companies to $10,000 worth of donations in a four-year election cycle.
Andrews, former Maryland director of Common Cause, faulted a loophole in state law that allows each company controlled by an individual to reach that $10,000 limit.
Gould has been able to "disguise" his contributions by making donations in as many as 14 entities he controls, Andrews claimed in a Rockville news conference before the ICC worksession.
Konterra, near Laurel, is a 2,200-acre planned community Gould proposes along I-95 where that highway would intersect with the ICC.
"It's not surprising that Konterra interests are working to get as much money as possible into the hands of officials who will make decisions on the ICC," Andrews said.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) have benefited from Gould's largesse, the councilman said.
Phone calls to Konterra representatives were not returned Tuesday.
At the start of Tuesday's worksession, Councilman Howard A. Denis (R-Dist. 1) of Chevy Chase put the discussion into a historical context, insisting that the decades of indecision on the ICC pales in comparison to earlier debates over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Capital Beltway or I-95.
"We have to adopt this," he said.
Councilman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said the ICC is only one of several transportation projects that need to move forward. But by advancing the ICC, he said, it shows a county commitment to solving other transportation problems.
The council had until close of business Tuesday to send the State Highway Administration its recommendations for the ICC. The worksession was held in the council's third-floor hearing room, the largest inside the Council Office Building in Rockville. About 15 people attended.
U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D), Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington and other elected officials have asked the state to extend the public comment period on the 85,000-page DEIS for 180 days.