For 20 years, residents in the Longmead Crossing subdivision have enjoyed the swath of woods running through the neighborhood, a place where people walk their dogs and use the trails to reach the pool, clubhouse, tennis courts and soccer field.
The wooded view from hundreds of homes echoes in the name of one of the primary streets: Park Vista.
Residents viewed maps and asked questions about the intercounty connector at James Blake High School in Silver Spring. The state is considering two routes, between 18 and 20 miles long.
(Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
The Maryland State Highway Administration has been taking testimony and presenting the findings of an environmental impact study at public hearings over the past three weeks.
The fourth, and final, hearing is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at James Blake High School, 300 Norwood Rd. in Silver Spring.
People can sign up in advance to speak by calling 866-462-0020 or through the study's Web site, www.iccstudy.org. About 45 people also may sign up to speak the day of the hearing. Public comments also may be given through the Web site.
That vista, however, might not be parklike for long. The wooded land lies in one of two routes being considered for an intercounty connector, a six-lane highway running east-west through Montgomery County about 10 miles outside the Capital Beltway.
"This is it," said Roger Plaut, a board member of the Longmead Crossing homeowners association, pointing to woods about 50 yards from where he stood in the back yard of a row of townhouses. The community, in the Layhill area of Silver Spring, has 2,000 homes and about 5,000 residents.
"These trees would be gone," Plaut said. "There would be a retaining wall, and these people's decks would overlook a six-lane highway."
Although an intercounty connector has been considered in Montgomery County for about 40 years, many residents say recent public hearings and the release of a detailed draft environmental analysis have made the prospect of a highway seem more real. They can now see in technical detail how their communities and the woods, wetlands and wildlife around them would be affected.
The draft study, more than 1,400 pages long, was released just before Thanksgiving. Many environmental groups and residents such as Plaut say they have been busy poring over it. The document is so massive that trying to download it from the Internet has frozen up computers.
The highway's supporters and opponents have argued for decades about whether such a highway would be worth the price, estimated at up to $2.4 billion, not including financing costs. That question is likely to be answered by lawmakers in the next three months as the General Assembly discusses how, or whether, to pay for an intercounty connector.
That question aside, the recently released study gives a more detailed look at who and what areas would be affected.
The state is considering two routes, between 18 and 20 miles long. Both would start at Interstate 370, near I-270, and the Shady Grove Metro station and end at I-95 or U.S. Route 1, south of Laurel in Prince George's County. Both routes are the same in the western segment, between I-370 and Georgia Avenue.
Heading east from Georgia Avenue, Corridor 1 would follow the alignment in the Montgomery County master plan set in the late 1960s. There would be interchanges at most major north-south roads.
Corridor 2, a more northern alignment, would run northeast from Georgia Avenue and follow Routes 28/198 through Burtonsville, joining with the Corridor 1 route just west of I-95 in Prince George's County.
State officials said they have found that Corridor 2 would have a greater impact on surrounding communities, largely because those neighborhoods, which are north of the master plan alignment, developed before there was any thought of a road cutting through.
With the northern alignment, "the fundamental character of many neighborhoods could change because of an unplanned road," Heather Lowe, the state's environmental manager for the study, told an audience of several hundred people at a recent public hearing.