Derwood Residents Rally Against Highway

By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008

At the edge of their neighborhood's fallen woods, residents of Montgomery County's Derwood community rallied yesterday against construction of the intercounty connector, saying there was still time to stop the long-debated six-lane highway.

Many of them wearing forest-green T-shirts reading "A Wake for MoCo," they hoisted placards as they spoke out, marched and took aim at Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), whom they blamed for allowing the $2.4 billion highway project to proceed.

They called their event O'Malley's March, invoking the name of the governor's onetime Celtic rock band, and used the theme of an Irish wake. A bagpiper played, and a crowd of 80 people looked somberly upon a swath of cut-down trees, not far from backyard grills and suburban decks.

The site has been slated to become part of the highway.

"We're all stuck paying mortgages in what was a beautiful place," said Connie McKenna, president of the Shady Grove Woods Homeowners Association, which organized the event. "We trusted our government to look out for us. . . . They failed us here on Briardale Road."

More than 12,000 homes, McKenna said, are within 500 meters of the 18.8-mile project. She and other critics say the project will cause environmental damage without relieving traffic. "This highway is going through established communities. It's not a bike path. It's like I-95. It's like the New Jersey Turnpike," she said.

State officials say the roadway, which extends to the Laurel area in Prince George's County, will ease east-west traffic congestion beyond the Capital Beltway. It is scheduled to open in segments, starting in 2010. A federal court recently ruled in favor of the highway, but an appeal is pending.

The state has spent $300 million to plan and design the toll road and buy land for it, and has awarded $1 billion in contracts, officials have said.

Derwood is one of the first areas to be substantially affected by the project, and residents there invited people from other communities to get an early glimpse of what the project will bring. Fellow homeowners came from Olney and Washington Grove, from around Georgia Avenue, from near Colesville Road.

Paul Sevier, 56, said he lost three-quarters of an acre of his Rockville area yard to the highway, and he held a sign to let others know what was at stake in his neighborhood: "1,223 Trees. Sycamore Acres."

Sevier and many others said few officials have heeded concerns about harm to air quality and considered how that will affect children growing up in the shadow of the highway. "I just don't think that's being listened to," he said.

Derwood residents said it made all the difference to see the project as a physical reality rather than a diagram. "I think seeing the actual trees being taken out was a wake-up call that it was real," said Keith Fournier, 32, who lives in Shady Grove Woods.

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