Maryland transportation officials said yesterday that they have dropped plans to include a bike trail as part of a proposed east-west highway in the Washington suburbs because of the project's escalating cost and the environmental impact of the trail.
The estimated cost of the 18-mile toll highway, which would link Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Prince George's, was raised last month to as much as $2.1 billion -- $400 million more than previous estimates.
State officials said dropping the bike path would save about $100 million on the intercounty connector. The savings were factored into the most recent cost estimate.
"For two reasons, we decided to remove the . . . path," said Douglas Simmons, deputy administrator for the State Highway Administration. "One was for cost and two was for reducing the footprint on the environment."
Simmons said the state would retain some of the right of way for the path -- which would have paralleled the highway in some sections and taken a different route in others -- so a trail could be built later. But he said that the most environmentally sensitive sections would be excluded and that any trail would not be contiguous across the counties.
Opponents of the project bemoaned the decision, saying the bike trail was the sole silver lining for a road that they believe will create more sprawl in the suburbs north of the Capital Beltway.
"The only excitement at all about this project was funding for bikes, and it was pitched as a full bike trail," Brian Henry of the Audubon Naturalist Society said. "This is one more example the state has promised about this highway that hasn't come true."
Even some supporters of the highway project said they were baffled by the decision.
"It does kind of confuse me as to why we would want to do that," Montgomery County Council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) said. "I get a little concerned at times that we're trying to push things through and get the main road done and that we're not looking at the broader impacts."
Knapp rejected the notion that a bike trail would be built later. "We get one bite at this apple," he said.
Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) said she would continue pushing for a bike path, "but not to the detriment of getting the road built."