Intercounty Connector Will Require More Land

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 5, 2006

The construction site for the intercounty connector will be closer to some Derwood homes and require slightly more parkland than previously planned, the result of state highway officials continuing to fine-tune plans for the 18-mile toll highway.

The closer proximity comes from design changes that should cause less harm to mature woodlands and a creek where box turtles, wood frogs and other animals live and breed, Montgomery County planning officials said. Lessening that impact will require moving two man-made ponds closer to the Founders Mill neighborhood, between Shady Grove and Redland roads.

The temporary ponds will trap construction sediment and keep it from entering nearby Mill Creek, officials said. Moving them from the more mature woods on the south side of the highway to the northern side, where the woods are not as vital a habitat, will eat up an additional one-tenth of an acre of parkland. It also will bring the construction area within 50 feet of townhouses on Catalpa Court and within 100 feet of homes on Flatwood Drive.

"This is a trade-off," said Dan Hardy, transportation planning supervisor for the Montgomery County Department of Park and Planning. "The increase in acreage [needed for the construction site] reduces the impacts" on forests.

Hardy said state highway officials made the changes because the county planning board had asked them to find ways to reduce impacts on forests. County officials had asked for a bridge over the ecologically sensitive Mill Creek area, Hardy said. The state chose instead to fill part of the area with dirt and divert the creek under the road via a large concrete tunnel.

Highway opponents said they did not have serious problems with the changes that the Montgomery County planning board approved last week. However, they said, those changes having been discussed at a sparsely attended weekday hearing shows how the public is being left out of a highway planning process that is moving ahead too quickly.

"Our rights, our communities, our parks and our streams are being sacrificed to Governor Ehrlich's political agenda to put a shovel in the ground before this election" in November, said Greg Smith, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop the ICC.

Steve McCully, whose home on Flatwood Drive sits about 150 yards from the highway route, said he doesn't mind construction coming closer to his back deck if it means sparing more of the woods where so many animals live. Even with the changes, he said, the highway will be "an environmental fiasco" for the Mill Creek area. He said he has asked county officials to help limit the number of towering oaks that will be cut between his neighborhood and the new road.

"At least when they're in full leaf, they're a good buffer for us from the noise and smell" of a highway, said McCully, a telecommunications manager. "Let's be reasonable before you pull out a chain saw and start whacking down our 75-year-old trees."

The planning board had to approve the changes because the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission owns the land where the temporary sediment ponds will be moved. In addition to moving those ponds, the board also approved moving a permanent storm water management pond from another mature wooded area to an open field west of Emory Lane.

Board member Meredith Wellington abstained from voting. She said the state is moving too quickly toward building the highway without giving enough assurances that parkland will be protected during construction.

"I have a sense of almost an out-of-control process that we're just chasing," Wellington said.

The changes approved last week are included in the first section that will be built, from Interstate 370 east to Norbeck Road. Since the federal government gave final approval to the highway in May, state highway officials have begun negotiations to buy homes and land in a swath between Gaithersburg and Laurel.

The six-lane road is budgeted to cost up to $3 billion, including financing, and is scheduled to open by 2010.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company