ICC wins federal approval

Protesters decry the decision while supporters cheer the beginning of the long-debated $2.4 billion highway

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Derwood residents Eve Burton (center) and her husband, Roger Metcalf (left), get in a heated debate with G. Stanley Doore, chairman of the Transportation Committee of the Calverton Citizens Association, as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announces federal approval of the Intercounty Connector highway.

Federal regulators gave their final approval to the Intercounty Connector, the controversial ribbon of highway sought for more than a generation, state officials announced in Gaithersburg on Tuesday.

The latest development in the ICC’s long and winding history came during a roadside news conference along Interstate 370, the Montgomery County terminus of the 18-mile road. A handful of hecklers arrived as well, to voice their objections over losing their homes to provide commuters a Gaithersburg-to-Laurel shortcut.

‘‘You will pay with your souls!” shouted Eve Burton, a 26-year resident of Cashell Estates in Derwood, where 14 homes will be bulldozed.

At the news conference, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) unveiled a banner that read, ‘‘The ICC starts here.”

‘‘Last night, we got the Federal Highway Administration’s record of decision, and it’s a go, and that’s a big deal,” Ehrlich said to the audience, made up mostly of government officials and business supporters of the highway.

Ehrlich touted the 14,000 jobs created by the project, as well as the $270 million in environmental remediation that will ‘‘undo damage of old engineering practices.”

To highlight the project’s ‘‘green” aspects, Ehrlich and other officials ceremonially planted a half dozen cherry trees.

The $2.4 billion highway will connect Montgomery’s I-270 corridor with I-95 and U.S. 1 in Prince George’s County almost directly to the east. The six-lane controlled-access highway will have nine interchanges and one intersection.

Work is expected to begin this fall. Portions will be completed in 2010 and 2011.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the state was in a ‘‘renaissance of transportation” with the first section of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge completed on time and on budget, the completion last summer of a concourse at Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport, and progress on the Purple Line⁄Bicounty Transitway.

A number of supporters were there to cheer the news.

‘‘I never thought I’d see this day. I’ve been supporting this road for 25 years,” said state Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville.

‘‘Now we can say for the first time that the ICC is going to happen,” said Richard N. Parsons, president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. ‘‘This is really it. The ICC fight is over, and we’re going to have the ICC.”

The federal approval also gives the green light for opponents to file suits to kill the deal.

‘‘The lawsuits could slow it down depending on how long they take and how complex they get,” said Robert Grow, director of transportation for the Washington Board of Trade.

Among the opponents was Dolores Milmoe, Maryland conservation associate for the Audubon Naturalist Society. She faulted the highway, citing studies that show it will make congestion worse in some spots, and the heavy toll on commuter’s wallets: $7 for a round trip.

Flanagan said the exact toll will be established in about two years.

Ehrlich’s remarks were interrupted several times by Burton and the other protesters. He acknowledged them by repeating, ‘‘mutual respect.” At one point he said: ‘‘You’ve had 56 years to talk. This is the majority’s time to talk.”

When Burton first tried to voice her objections, a Maryland State Police trooper who was part of the governor’s protection unit tried to lead her away. Burton at that point fell to the ground.

Surrounded by reporters, Burton tried to elaborate her plight over Ehrlich’s remarks, which were amplified by a nearby speaker of a public address system.

The ICC will pass through her Derwood neighborhood instead of passing through a portion of Rock Creek Park.

Speaking to reporters, Flanagan said the state had no choice but to pass through Cashell Estates because the U.S. Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency objected to the route through the park.

The state will use its ‘‘quick take” authority to seize the properties, Flanagan said. From there, the state will try to help the homeowners.

‘‘They will be working very closely ... with people on those concerns so that they know what their rights and what their alternatives are so they can get the benefit of the laws that are in their favor,” Flanagan said.

But Parsons said the ICC has been well known for years. Anyone who bought homes in the area or along the right of way knew the highway was coming.

Another Cashell resident, Roger Metcalf, arrived with his children. He said he believed the noontime announcement was a ‘‘calculated” maneuver to limit protests: The announcement was scheduled on a workday, after a three-day holiday and with only 90 minutes notice.

In addition to Forehand, Sens. Patrick J. Hogan (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village and Rona E. Kramer (D-Dist. 14) of Olney, Del. Carol S. Petzold (D-Dist. 19) of Aspen Hill and County Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park attended Tuesday’s ceremony.

Conspicuously absent was one longtime ICC advocate, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. He was represented by Arthur Holmes, the county’s transportation director. Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson sent an aide.