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First Sections of Intercounty Connector Set to Open Next Fall

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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 2009; 4:40 PM

Concrete has begun to dot the raw red clay gash that runs across Washington's northern suburbs as bridge abutments, trestles and sound walls go up this summer for Maryland's most expensive and controversial highway.

Consuming $1.5 million a day, construction of the mammoth Intercounty Connector is on pace for the first sections to open by fall of next year, inaugurating the inevitable love-hate relationship that drivers have with virtually every inch of the region's asphalt.

Until now, the highway has uncoiled much like a snake in the tall grass, inching down a right-of-way that has been in state hands for decades, seen primarily by homeowners whose yards back up to it. Construction equipment has been banned from virtually all of the surrounding streets, but the project is becoming more visible as the work expands to meet existing roadways.

The first bit of new road, a bridge that carries Redland Road traffic over the ICC roadbed, opened in June. But the first to benefit from the project's progress might have been the deer, foxes and other animals whose lives were disrupted when the men in hard hats began to plow through their forest two years ago.

The 18.8-mile toll road is expected to cost almost $2.6 billion by the time its final link is completed between Interstate 270 in Montgomery County and Route 1 in Prince George's County. Projected to cost $216 million 25 years ago, the highway found its origins in a long-abandoned plan to create a second, outer beltway around Washington.

The western end of the project is on schedule, and parts of it should open in a little more than a year, according to state construction supervisors. Inching eastward, the next two segments are expected to be finished late next year or early in 2011. Plans for the final piece of the main route, linking Interstate 95 with Route 1, are still being "fiddled with," according to Melinda B. Peters, project director for the State Highway Administration.

Four other bridges, carrying Needwood Road, Emory Road, Georgia Avenue and Old Columbia Pike over the roadbed, are on schedule to open this year.

Construction has been made easier because the state began acquiring land for the highway decades ago, even as environmentalists and civic associations mounted a political and legal effort to kill the plan.

Though a few minor structures stood in the way of construction, much of the roadway was fallow fields and woodlands when the bulldozers arrived. Some developers, who had long coveted the prime real estate, gambled that the road never would be built and edged their houses up to the longtime right-of-way.

Now back yards of those houses hang on the precipice of the construction site, and in one case homeowners will benefit because a developer pushed the limits. More than 700 feet of the highway in Winters Mill will be covered by a $20.5 million deck to preserve the surrounding houses. Those homeowners will retain a view out their back windows unobstructed by sound walls.

"Their developer is being rewarded for encroaching on the right-of-way," said Michael S. Baker, the environmental manager for the project. "It has been on the Montgomery County master plan for about 50 years."

Sound walls intended to quiet the roar of traffic during back-deck barbecues have begun to go up along the roadbed.


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