Members of a Maryland planning commission recommended yesterday that the Montgomery County Council endorse the proposed east-west intercounty connector along a route that has been in Montgomery's master plan for more than 40 years.
After more than four hours of public testimony and debate, Montgomery's members of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission voted 4 to 1 to build the 18-mile road linking Interstate 270 in Montgomery and I-95 in Prince George's County.
The Intercounty Connector: A plan was endorsed for one of the two proposed routes for the intercounty connector that would link Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with I-95 in Prince George's County.
The action is a nonbinding recommendation to the Montgomery County Council, which is scheduled to vote on the plan March 1. The council is widely expected to endorse the connector; six of the nine members have voiced support for it.
The council's vote on the highway also will be nonbinding but will become part of the public input to an environmental impact study being conducted by the Maryland State Highway Administration. State highway officials are studying two proposed routes for the road that Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has called the state's top transportation priority.
Officials have said they plan to choose one of the routes this spring and hope to break ground on the highway next year.
Four commissioners said the route outlined in Montgomery's master plan since the 1960s makes the most sense because a state study found it would have less of an impact on communities, historical sites and the area's water supply.
The commission unanimously rejected a second proposed alignment that would follow a more northerly path, along the Route 28/Route 198 corridor. It also rejected an option that would scrap the connector and focus on improvement of local roads.
However, two commission members who voted for the connector expressed little enthusiasm. They said they were voting for a route because they believe the highway already has overwhelming public and political support.
Commissioner John M. Robinson, who supported the connector, said there "may be a better solution to solve this problem" of east-west traffic congestion. However, he said, he would support the "popular will" of Montgomery voters who had elected a pro-connector county executive, County Council and governor.
"I think there's been a decision made by the voters of this county that this is the solution they want," Robinson said.
The commission's chairman, Derick P. Berlage, said he voted for the connector reluctantly. Berlage said he has long believed that the money required for a highway -- last estimated at up to $2.4 billion, plus financing costs -- would be better spent on more mass transit. He said he voted for the master plan alignment as the best alternative.
"If the governor and executive and council are determined to build an ICC -- and clearly they are -- then Corridor 1 [the master plan route] is clearly the best choice," Berlage said.
Commissioner Meredith K. Wellington cast the lone opposing vote, saying it would do too much damage to Montgomery's parklands and streams where brown trout spawn.
"I don't think we should plow through that without looking at other alternatives," Wellington said.
"All that would be irrevocably damaged by running a six-lane highway through it," Wellington added.
The State Highway Administration announced yesterday that the deadline on the public comment period for the highway's draft environmental impact study has been extended 10 days, to Feb. 25.
Several commissioners said they were disturbed by residents' complaints that they needed more time to digest the 7,000-page document.