Setting the record straight on the ICC projects
On Jan. 21, The Gazette published an article, "County Council members criticize ICC," regarding the Intercounty Connector's (ICC) environmental projects. I am responding to clarify and correct several issues.
During design and construction of the ICC, the State Highway Administration (SHA) is doing everything possible to avoid and minimize environmental impacts from the project. In fact, the ICC includes longer bridges across wetlands and streams to minimize disturbance and therefore, the need to offset, or mitigate, impacts. Other environmentally sensitive features include redundant storm water management and dozens of wildlife passages. Where impacts cannot be avoided, SHA is mitigating as required by law, as well as going above and beyond what is required and using the opportunity to be good environmental stewards. The design features, mitigation and stewardship projects total $370 million, or 15 percent of the $2.5 billion ICC budget.
During planning for the project, elected officials, citizens, communities, and state and federal agencies identified a large list of environmental projects to be considered for ICC mitigation or stewardship. An interagency working group of staff from a number of federal, state and local environmental agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and both counties guides the decisions regarding environmental projects.
Project modifications were not due to costs, as cited by The Gazette. The overall investment has not changed and in fact, several projects have been expanded to increase environmental benefit. Moreover, the projects are those that provide the greatest environmental benefit to the Anacostia and Indian Creek watersheds, regardless of county lines.
The good news is that more than 20 acres of wetlands and forests, and approximately one mile of streams, were saved through refinements in the ICC's design and innovative construction techniques, decreasing mitigation requirements. While some Prince George's County environmental projects are no longer required as compensatory mitigation, they will now be done as environmental stewardship projects. Additionally, the original "wish list" has been refined to assess technical feasibility. Where not practical, the environmental team identified replacements within the watersheds.
One final correction that is important to note: The article states that the six-lane toll highway will connect Laurel to Gaithersburg and is designed to ease congestion on the north end of the Capital Beltway. Yes, the ICC connects I-95 to I-270, but it is not designed to ease congestion on the Capital Beltway, but rather on the many two- and four-lane highways and local roads choked with traffic throughout the corridor. It will improve congestion at 51 regional intersections and prevent 350 crashes on overcrowded roads.
All citizens are welcome to contact the ICC team with questions or concerns by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-866-462-0020, or by visiting the website at www.iccproject.com.
Melinda B. Peters, director, Intercounty Connector