For 20 years, residents in the Longmead Crossing subdivision in Silver Spring 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. 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.
John Parrish of the Maryland Native Plant Society, left, and Neal Fitzpatrick of the Audubon Naturalist Society tour parkland near Lake Needwood in Montgomery County that they say would be ruined by the intercounty connector.
(James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
"This is it," said Roger Plaut, a board member of the Longmead Crossing homeowners association. "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 in the fall. 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 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.
As for the benefits, the state estimated that using an intercounty connector would cut about a half-hour off a drive between Gaithersburg and Laurel. It also would make nearby local roads now overburdened with east-west traffic less congested and safer, the study said.