With Obstacles Overcome, Highway Work Begins

Construction workers dig in as preparations begin in Gaithersburg for the first segment of the long-awaited, much-contested intercounty connector.
Construction workers dig in as preparations begin in Gaithersburg for the first segment of the long-awaited, much-contested intercounty connector. (Photos By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007

In the past few weeks, the shoulder of Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg has disappeared behind concrete barriers. A few miles away, along Redland Road in Derwood, a half-dozen bulldozers have started clearing trees and moving mounds of dirt. On Georgia Avenue just south of Olney, a portable bathroom and orange barrels have sprouted in the torn-up median.

Each construction site looks like the roadwork that Washington area drivers are accustomed to. But this project is anything but typical.

After 50 years of debate, the six-lane, 18.8-mile intercounty connector is being built. Major work at the three locations in central Montgomery County began Nov. 13, after the state won a court ruling against several environmental groups that tried to block the highway. The $2.4 billion toll-road is scheduled to open in segments beginning in 2010, with completion by 2012.

Construction kicked off with little fanfare in a seven-mile stretch between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue (Route 97).

"This is the beginning," said Melinda Peters, the Maryland State Highway Administration's director for the connector project. "This is in very localized areas. [Motorists and residents] will obviously be seeing more significant construction soon."

Construction got off to a sluggish start because of a series of rainy days that turned work sites into muddy messes, and it will proceed slowly during the winter, Peters said. The pace will pick up as the weather turns warmer, she said.

Still, motorists and central Montgomery residents are beginning to see plenty of signs that work is underway, as the highway is built in pieces that will someday link Gaithersburg and Laurel. The contract for the first, westernmost section was awarded at $478.7 million.

On I-370, two bridges are being widened near where the intercounty connector will link up with the I-270 corridor. Crews also are beginning to clear trees near Shady Grove Road, Peters said.

At Redland Road, workers are building a detour road to be used when Redland is rebuilt over the connector. That includes clearing brush and trees near Needwood Road.

Heading farther east on Redland, the Derwood neighborhood of Cashell Estates sits half-empty, with houses that the state bought to condemn for the highway's path. One house is boarded up, and workers recently removed asbestos from another so it could be bulldozed.

On Georgia Avenue, orange barrels between Norbeck Road (Route 28) and Emory Lane are allowing workers to build a road in the median. Traffic will be shifted there, Peters said, when Georgia is rebuilt over the connector. Tree clearing has also begun in the area, to make way for at least one trailer that will serve as the project's field office.

At open houses last month, residents were told to expect construction between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays, though some weekend and holiday work might occur. Trucks are restricted to state roads, state officials said, and overnight work will be governed by tighter noise restrictions.

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