Elected officials, interest group members and local residents alternately praised and pilloried a proposed east-west highway linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties last night during the first of four public hearings on the project this month.
Supporters said the highway, known as the intercounty connector, would get them where they want to go faster.
Three More Hearings on Intercounty Connector|
The Maryland State Highway Administration will hold three more public hearings on the draft environmental impact statement for the intercounty connector project:
Today: Gaithersburg High School, 314 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (or after the last speaker testifies).
Saturday: James Blake High School, 300 Norwood Rd., Silver Spring, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or after the last speaker testifies).
Jan. 22: Also at James Blake High School, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or after the last speaker testifies).
Note: Speakers can register in advance by calling the intercounty connector study's toll-free phone line at 866-462-0020 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
"We want businesses and the general public to have mobility options that will reduce travel times," said Norris McDonald, president of the African American Environmentalist Association, a group that backs the highway. "We believe that the connector will accomplish this goal with very little impact to the environment."
Others said such views were nonsense, given the effect of the construction on wetlands and the likelihood that residential development would follow the road.
"The ICC threatens all the positive steps that the state, Montgomery County and Prince George's County have taken to grow smartly," said Cheryl Cort of the Washington Regional Network for Livable Communities. "The ICC will commit huge sums of public money and expand the region outward to contribute to sprawl."
Opponents also held a news conference before the hearing to urge participants to help stop the highway project, and they cheered loudly during the hearing when people spoke against it.
More than 150 people attended the public hearing at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. They could also view a room full of informational posters and ask questions of state highway officials.
Moving from poster to poster, Greenbelt resident Emmett Jordan said he was undecided about the highway.
"Parts of me are for it," he said. "Traffic is a big concern, and development is important. On the flip side, I'm a cyclist, and I'm not too happy to hear about the dropping of the cycle path" that would have paralleled the highway.
The hearing was part of a federally mandated study of the 18-mile highway's possible impacts on the environment, traffic and communities.
With the state hoping to begin construction next year, the hearings mark the beginning of a more vigorous stage of debate for the project's supporters and opponents.
The project's backers say the connector is critical to the state's economic development, because it would link the Interstate 270 business corridor with the Port of Baltimore, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Interstate 95.
Opponents say the road would serve as a bypass around Prince George's, directing economic development instead to Montgomery. They also fear environmental damage could be caused by the highway and say the road would increase traffic by encouraging people to move to the outer suburbs.
As the public considers the federal environmental review, the political process is moving into high gear. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said yesterday that he supports the alignment called for in the county's master plan, the first time that Duncan has endorsed a specific route for a connector, said his spokesman, David Weaver. Speaking on WTOP radio, Duncan said that route would require taking fewer homes and would cause less environmental damage than an option farther north.
Because the highway has been in the county's plan for 40 years, Duncan said, residents who have bought houses along the corridor he prefers have had ample notice. He also said he plans to ask the state to reconsider its decision to drop the bike path.
State lawmakers will discuss plans to fund the highway when the General Assembly convenes next week for its annual session. The state's highway administrator said in November that the project could cost $2.1 billion to $2.4 billion. Opponents of the project, as well as some supporters, have raised questions about whether the road would consume too much of the state's transportation budget. Copies of the draft of the study are available at local libraries or at www.iccstudy.org.
Staff writer Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.