Locals Get 'Nitty-Gritty' On Road Construction

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2007

Residents of central Montgomery and northwestern Prince George's counties, listen up.

When construction begins on the intercounty connector, be prepared to hear bulldozers revving up at 7 a.m. Don't expect to see trucks hauling dirt on local streets because that won't be allowed. And workers will be instructed to keep the noise and dust down, Maryland highway officials said.

Officials outlined the details this week of what area residents will probably see, hear and smell as the 18.8-mile connector is built over the next five years.

Even as a federal judge considers two anti-highway lawsuits that will determine whether construction can legally begin, state officials are forging ahead as if major work will start this month. Those plans included two open houses that were held this week to let the public know what to expect, said Odessa Phillip, the project's community outreach leader.

"It's really giving people the opportunity to get the nitty-gritty," Phillip said.

State officials plan to give their contractor permission to begin major construction Tuesday. However, lawyers involved in the lawsuits are negotiating an agreement in which the state would delay work that would cause significant environmental harm, such as clearing trees or filling streams, until U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. issues a decision, a lawyer in the case said. A ruling is expected next month.

The lawsuits, filed by several environmental groups and a Derwood couple, allege that federal officials violated the law by approving a state study that underestimated the highway's impact on wildlife, wetlands, streams and air pollution. State officials have said they're confident their study will be upheld. They plan to open the $2.4 billion road connecting Gaithersburg and Laurel by early 2012.

At open houses in Rockville and Gaithersburg, residents learned that construction will start on the highway's western end, between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue. Work will begin in three places simultaneously -- the access road to the Shady Grove Metro station, Redland Road and Georgia Avenue. The three parts will meet up near Muncaster Mill Road, officials said.

Those living nearby questioned officials: Would the state pay for windows that break from construction-related vibrations? Was the state aware that flying dust could aggravate their child's asthma?

"This is depressing me," one woman said with a heavy sigh. "I'm leaving."

Those who stayed learned that most work would be done between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, although some weekend and holiday work might occur, Phillip said. Any overnight work would be governed by more stringent noise restrictions, she said. Nearby roads, such as Emory Lane and Needwood and Redland roads, will remain open but might be rerouted.

Trucks will be restricted to state roads and haul routes designed to limit the distance that dirt is moved, cutting down on dust and noise. State officials said they will monitor equipment emissions and noise. Landscape architects are designing plantings along sound walls and interchanges to blend with the area, state officials said.

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