Intercounty Connector clears final environmental study

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006

The proposed Intercounty Connector highway cleared a huge potential roadblock last week with the release of a final environmental study.

The State and Federal Highway Administrations completed the required Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the 18-mile toll highway, planned for decades to link Prince George’s and Montgomery counties between Interstates 95 and 270.

The impact statement accepted a route proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) last year that includes a bike path and long bridges minimizing wetland impact. Ehrlich’s proposal, estimated at $2.1 billion, has since risen to $2.4 billion due to inflation.

Additional FEIS modifications include environmentally friendly initiatives such as building stormwater management systems and designing more steep slopes to reduce the effect on natural habitats.

‘‘For every acre of park land involved in the project, we are replacing that with eight acres,” said Robert L. Flanagan, Maryland’s transportation secretary. ‘‘The newly owned acreage is what Park and Planning wanted in Montgomery County, and we were able to negotiate that.”

The next step in the approval process is a 45-day public comment period ending Feb. 27.

After the response period and approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government, the state can move forward with declaring rights of way and issuing design-build contracts.

County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park called the ICC a critical piece of the county’s 10-year transportation plan: ‘‘The approval is an important milestone in starting ICC construction. It’s about time.”

Read the FEIS
The Final Environmental Impact Statement is available at CD copies are available at libraries.
But not all council members are on board. Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg and Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton, both longtime foes of the ICC, held a Dec. 27 news conference saying that the tolls for the highway would be too high for many drivers.

‘‘The [FEIS] left out alternatives to what is a limited access highway,” Andrews said Tuesday. ‘‘People need to understand that if the ICC is built, other projects will be delayed for years, including cheaper projects like widening Route 28, which would relieve some of the same traffic problems in the same area of the ICC route.”

The widening would cost about $25 million, Andrews said.

County Councilman Thomas E. Perez (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park, also an ICC opponent, said the ICC battle is far from over.

‘‘There are still many chapters yet to be written,” he said. ‘‘I would rather have other projects that would really end gridlock in the county. You can’t be an advocate of the ICC and of other projects like the Purple Line. There is not money for both.”

In a statement last week, Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said the highway should have been built 40 years ago. Although no specific individuals were mentioned, Floreen’s statement was pointed.

‘‘Those who would launch a last-ditch effort to kill this much-needed road should either get on board or get out of the way so we can deliver relief to commuters who are sick to death of too much traffic and too little action,” she said.

For years, the ICC has been touted by proponents as a partial solution to the county’s traffic problems.

‘‘I think ICC opponents have held the general public hostage long enough, and I don’t think the public will put up with the traffic congestion,” said Robert T. Grow, government relations director with the Greater Washington Board of Trade. ‘‘For opponents, I think the train has left the station.”

Studies have shown that the road could reduce congestion in some areas as much as 50 percent. But opponents have challenged the road at every turn, citing its potential for destroying parks and neighborhoods.

The Audubon Naturalist Society, which now estimates actual costs for the project at $3 billion, launched an anti-ICC television campaign last month, saying the state failed to consider other options to reduce traffic congestion. The society is calling for a 90-day public review period and urging public officials to consider its version of traffic reduction alternatives.

Barring further complications, Flanagan said, construction should begin this fall.