Connector Roadwork Accord Is Reached

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 13, 2007

Maryland highway officials and opponents of the intercounty connector finalized a pact yesterday to allow preliminary work next week on the 18.8-mile road, delaying more significant construction to give a federal judge a few more weeks to sort out claims in two anti-highway lawsuits.

The state will pay $3 million in penalties to contractors who had expected to begin major work on the controversial $2.4 billion highway project Tuesday. The agreement, outlined in federal district court in Greenbelt, will expire Nov. 12 but could be extended or revised.

The east-west connector toll road is designed to link Montgomery and Prince George's counties from Interstate 95 to Interstate 270 and draw off traffic from the often-clogged Capital Beltway to the south.

Initially, state officials said delays in construction could cost up to $10 million.

But the amount was reduced once the state and the road's opponents reached an agreement that allows erosion and sediment control systems to be installed, utilities relocated, a house removed and some trees and underbrush cleared. Field offices also can be installed near Shady Grove and Needwood roads.

The work will cover a seven-mile stretch along the highway's western end in Montgomery.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. will get some breathing room to review claims by residents and environmental groups that the highway, on the drawing board for five decades, would do little to ease the region's transportation woes and would cause substantial environmental damage.

The highway's opponents had tried to halt all work, saying they feared that the state would move forward next week with major demolition, tree removal and roadwork that would cause substantial damage even before their lawsuits are heard by the judge.

The anti-highway lawsuits, brought by four environmental groups and a Derwood couple, say federal transportation officials approved the project before adequately studying the effect on wildlife and public health and also failed to consider alternatives, such as building more mass transit and making local road improvements.

Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who sent a letter yesterday to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) urging the state to limit work on the road until the lawsuits are resolved, said he was pleased with the agreement on the scope of work. But Andrews urged the governor to put the project on hold until the lawsuits are resolved.

"We want no more taking of homes and are calling on the state not to dig a deeper hole in terms of fiscal obligations. They could be destroying assets needlessly," Andrews said.

The letter was signed by fellow council members Marc Elrich (D-At large), Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) and Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large).

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