Green Light for the ICC

Thursday, June 1, 2006

FINAL FEDERAL approval for the construction of the intercounty connector in suburban Maryland will inspire neither fist-pumping celebratory rallies nor dancing in the streets, but it is historic and important nonetheless. After half a century of to-ing and fro-ing, attended by ever-escalating cost estimates, the authorization to begin construction clears the way for a badly needed 18-mile conduit between two vital corridors in the region: Interstates 270 and 95. Whatever the connector's impact on congestion, there is little doubt that it will spur job creation and ease access to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Relatively few major roads have been built recently in the Washington area, and fewer still in the Maryland suburbs, which badly need them. The connector's path to approval is a case study for understanding why. Opposed by community groups, environmentalists and anti-growthers, the link was juggled like a hot potato by one weak-kneed politician after another and given up for dead for years at a time. That it appears to have received the final go-ahead is a testament to the determination and leadership of many people, notably Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). Unfortunately, Mr. Duncan, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge the governor this fall, could not attend the ceremony marking the federal approval because Mr. Ehrlich, in a petty move, did not notify him until a few hours in advance.

Like most major transportation projects in this area, the intercounty connector comes freighted with a hefty price tag: up to $3 billion, including the financing costs. That is a staggering amount, but, like Metrorail, it is also a major investment in the region's long-term prosperity. It may take a decade or two before the evidence is in, but there is every likelihood that by linking the dynamic I-270 corridor with the more sluggishly growing area along I-95 and Route 1 in the east, the road will provide across-the-board economic benefits to both Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

No, the highway is not the miracle cure for the Capital Beltway's heavy congestion; it will probably have little effect in that regard, although it may take some traffic off narrower, already overused east-west roads of the two counties. But roads are not built only to solve problems; they are also needed to tighten regional bonds and provide opportunities. In the end, that is the hope and justification for the intercounty connector.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company